THE WORK OF PHILIPPE Ramette, a 32-year-old French artist working mostly in Nice, belongs to a peculiarly French tradition of engineering gone awry, a lineage that includes the complex devices exhaustively described by Raymond Roussel in Locus Solus and the “bachelor machines” of Marcel Duchamp, not to mention the bizarre objects that the Surrealists used to seek out in the flea markets of Paris. Imagine Ramette’s works, then, listed in a mail-order catalogue, or displayed in a stall at the Marché aux Puces, thus:

1. Objet intolerable (Intolerable object, 1991): a brass headband supporting a glass lens. When sunlight strikes this powerful lens, a concentrated beam almost immediately begins to burn a hole through the top of the user’s head.

2. Objet pour se faire foudroyer (Object to make yourself be struck by lightning, 1991): another brass headband, this time replacing the lens with a thin

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