Emak Bakia, 1926, remade 1970, consists of an upright wooden part that resembles the neck of a ‘cello but which has had its strings replaced by unplayable, loose horsehair. The two locks of hair flow down the wooden neck and endow the piece with a sense of life. The original work consisted of the neck of an old ‘cello picked up in a Paris flea market and the horsehair of the bow used for playing the instrument. Arturo Schwarz, Man Ray’s dealer and author of a monograph on him, has written, ‘The ‘cello-neck looked worn and weathered, and Man Ray felt the urge to point humorously to its age: since it has grown old, he gave it a long white beard’ (Schwarz, p.155). Schwarz adds that the spiral form of the ‘cello probably held a fascination for the artist too. Man Ray once said:
‘Nature, from the sea-shell to the galaxy, is full of spirals: when I was a young man I was already obsessed by this form; when working as a draughtsman I was fascinated by curves, spirals, parabolas, hyperbolas.’
The work’s title, which means in Basque ‘leave me alone’, is the name of a house owned by Rose and Arthur Wheeler near Biarritz where Man Ray stayed and made an avant-garde film of the same name in 1925. This film, which Man Ray termed a ‘cinepoem’, was first shown in November 1926, and was hailed as a great piece of cinematography that melded aspects of dada and surrealism. The original version of the object was shown briefly in the film but was lost subsequently.