Lisa Stansbie demonstrates how as Swimming Machine works

Swimming machines

Professor Lisa Stansbie


Exhibitions (M)

Sculpture, Performance

Sculpture, Performance, Drawing, Collage, Archives, Sport, Swimming


Artist, triathlete and open water swimmer Lisa Stansbie’s project Swimming Machines began as a series of collages which mine Google Patent’s archive of fantastical swimming devices. Stimulating interplay between art and endurance sport, Stansbie’s work explores the history, apparatus and rituals of endurance swimming.

Stansbie has created a new archive, in the context of sculpture and performance, in conversation with the past, through which, endurance swimming and identity might be understood in both contemporary and historical contexts; offering a new research insight.

Her methodology is to revive digitised archives of unrealised patents designed to assist with swimming to provide the visual and conceptual basis for the project which evolved to span performance, sculptures, and written web-content. Stansbie builds on methodologies established by artists such as Guido van der Werde, exploring synergies between art and endurance sport. The project uses an ethnographic framework to demarcate a history and identity of endurance swimmers as a community, creating new multidisciplinary junctures between art practice, endurance swimming specifically and the digital archive.

Contexts include contributions to: an exhibition and booklet at the Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE; UK touring exhibition ‘Paint Her to Your Own Mind’; an exhibition (seen by 5902 visitors) and live performance at Huddersfield Art Gallery — which was the subject of a public lecture, and a public symposium contribution both at the University of Huddersfield.

Impact includes an essay by Dr Rowan Bailey contextualising Stansbie’s work, and a forthcoming chapter in a book titled ‘Physicality and Endurance’ by C. McCall. Stansbie’s work also features in a film made by the University of Huddersfield in response to ‘Thought Positions in Sculpture’. This research output has been featured in the national press including The Huddersfield Examiner as well as on international online platforms such as the Heritage organisation ‘Heart of Sharjah’ website. 

Stansbie's swimming machine sculptures are, in my opinion, works of creative fiction. They are hybrid assemblages of a myriad of different design patents, stored inside Google. As an archive of designs, the sculptures act as historical referents where the parts are always already dispersed. The swimming machine sculpture resonates with previous swimming machines in history but it is also its own imaginative assemblage.

Dr Rowan Bailey

The live performance of the swimming machine was perhaps intended to reveal the absudity of the machanism / apparatus. The fascinating histories of these different patents lies in their cumbersome and obstructive characteristcs. Realistically, these structures are more hinderance than aid. That is why they are fascinating historical referents. They also play upon an aesthetics that is predominantly sculptural. So, to see Stansbie do a live performance allowed the audience to encounter the impracticalities of the machine and the body's attempts to negotiate this strage apparatus.

Dr Rowan Bailey

Lisa Stansbie is a cerebral artist - playing with collage and nonsense - like humpty dumpty wrestling the meaning from meaningless fragments of elegant drawings.

Slavka Sverakova

Funding credits

University of Huddersfield