wavelength, amplitude and frequency: Reuben Margolin


Reubin Margolin’s Pentagonal Wave photographed by Dave Chatting, shot at the Kinetica Museum‘s Creatures Great and Small show, part of the Concrete and Glass festival, London. Here’s a video of Pentagonal Wave from the exhibition.

Even though he’s been making complex and huge art machines locally (San Francisco Bay Area) for over a decade, I hadn’t encountered the astonishing work of Reuben Margolin until I saw this short video segment on Make TV, where he explains who he is and we get a quick glimpse of his work and shop:

From that video, I only had the impression that his art machines were largely wood-centric, and being a girl who loves her metal machines, it took me a minute to dig into Margolin’s work — and I’m ever so glad I did.
In December of 2008, Margolin combined forces with Technorama Science (in Switzerland) to create one of the largest and possibly the most complicated mechanical art machines in the world. Measuring 25 square meters, Margolin’s Magic Wave contains more than 50,000 individually fabricated pieces, and demonstrates three characteristics of waves: wavelength, amplitude and frequency. Here’s the official video from the exhibition: note the complex series of slowly turning pulleys around the ceiling of the piece. All told, the Magic Wave contains 3000 pulleys, 5 kilometers of steel cable, and 9 motors.

And they made it all — Margolin and the Technorama staff. It’s exciting me to pieces just thinking about how much fun it must have been to work on this project; to make matters more frothy for me, Margolin thoughtfully put together this incredible video compilation of the making of the Magic Wave — and YAY for women in the machine shop! It takes a special kind of machine art geek (like me, and hopefully you, dear reader) to sit through this silent video detailing the construction process, but if you’ve ever run a lathe before (I have), you’ll thrill when you see an incredibly skillful lathe-fetish moment. Geek out with me on this:

Of course, the Magic Wave isn’t all you should see of Margolin’s work (as evidenced by the Pentagonal Wave at the top of this post). His website is in need of an update, but that’s okay: His YouTube channel is full of treats and art machines aplenty — many shot in his Emeryville, California shop. He’s created many different kinetic, mechanical waves (and the videos of them in action are small, but of higher quality than most of the YouTube clips). See even more higher quality videos and photos of his various (and recent) installations on Flickr.

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Ira Sherman’s stunning Impenetrable Devices

Jeweler, sculptor and fabricator Ira Sherman has been busy making sleek metal creations since the 1970s, but it wasn’t until a friend — jeweler and artist Holly Bobisuthi — directed me to Sherman’s mechanized sculptures and Impenetrable Devices last night that I became a full-on fan. The series was originally shown in 2002: Sherman interviewed five rape victims and designed chastity belts and corsets to fit the desires of what the women *most wished* they’d had when they were attacked. From brutality comes a feeling of vindication, and in this case, frightening beauty.
Cremistatic_Detail.jpgHis Impenetrable Devices are jewels themselves, comprised of materials such as stainless steel, brass, glass, and jewels — like a garnet for The Injector, carefully positioned. For The Injector, Sherman said ” Two viewpoints were common with all rape victims, female or male. The desire to identify and capture the rapist was universal. The Injector device uses pneumatically powered hypodermic syringes to simultaneously inject tattoo dye and a powerful sedative into the attacker. The rapist drops in his tracks and is permanently identified making for easy apprehension.”
According to his website, his sculptural work “… uses materials and shapes from science and technology, yet “bio-engineered” to interact with the audience or viewer in a uniquely human way. Many of Sherman’s pieces are, in fact, “prostheses” created around a humorous social concept. These are worn on the body, and may be shockingly intimate. Many of Sherman’s sculptures have sensors that let them interact with the participant or the audience. Parts of his current traveling exhibitions, “Panaceas to Persistent Problems” and “Impenetrable Devices” have been displayed in exhibitions in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Israel and Japan; the Spertus Museum, the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art and the National Ornamental Metal Museum have recently acquired Sherman art work for their permanent collection.”
For his 2006 exhibition of Impenetrable Devices (which are rarely shown), Sherman told the Sydney Herald, “When you talk with someone who’s been raped, you start getting details that are just horrifying. That horror I transform into my work,” Sherman said.
“But if I were to make pieces horribly ugly and brutal, there’s no redemption. The beauty of the work has a kind of redemptive quality.”
Sherman’s devices have names like Bear Trap Corset (below), Saber Tooth Speculum and Intimate Electric Fence. They are mostly steel and brass, with some electrical wiring and small mechanical parts.

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phantasmagorical mechanical Dante: sculpture by Kris Kuksi


When you visit the website of sculptor and painter Kris Kuski, make sure you go right to the sculptures and: a) look at it on the largest monitor possible, and b) have plenty of time to spend soaking up the unbelievably intricate mechanical dioramas he’s created over the past few years. Then take a moment at how fast his images load and how incredibly awesome his fullscreen mode is where you can zoom in to see the smallest mecha-detail: the site is pure win for the gallery design, for sure.

Kuksi’s sculptures, unlike most of what’s featured and focused on here, do not move or operate in any function, yet they’re such outrageous imaginings of past, present and future fantasy mythology combined with all the pain and beauty found in human-machine mergings. Much of his sculptural work references decadence, devices, Babylon, illusions that lie within divinity, war, and of course, the macabre. His capacity for mechanical fantasy is overwhelming.
Dark, glorious and beautiful; I’ve been stalking this site all week. The small screencaps here don’t do the images on Kuksi’s site justice; click through. Take your time and don’t expect a cheerful ride, but do expect to have your imagination altered and taken to a very (pleasingly) dark carnival, indeed.

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in London: Behind the Shutters Gallery features Mutate Britain


Image by In de Skies who has a great photo collection of the show here.

Right now London Gallery space Behind the Shutters is featuring an exhibition called Mutate Britain — with none other than the legendary Mutoid Waste Company at the centerpiece of the artists on exhibit. (Here‘s a short video tour of the exhibit.) The show has been going on since mid-November, but the MWC and the sprawling collective of artists that fuel the group have been up to some right mischief since the show opened, and last week was no exception. Here is what artist Joanna Peacock did in the street for the exhibition on December 20:

I also think this robo-tank is cute:

The Mutoid Waste Company has been around for over 20 years, creating gigantic lethal mobile machinery and kinetic art; some spews fire, some is rideable — in fact, if you read Digg you’ll recall a recent post about a giant fire-spewing robot dog that some guy took for a ride around on a street in London. I immediately recognized it as “Larry” (that’s the machine’s name), but I didn’t realize that Larry was taking a stroll from the back of the gallery exhibit for fun.
There are some really incredible pieces of machine art in the Mutate Britain exhibit. I’m especially drawn to MWC’s 20-year member Giles Walker‘s pole-dancing robots — not for the obvious reasons, but because their heads are CCTV cameras, making a dual statement about peep show viewing and privacy, and the culture of surveillance that pervades London with these cameras. About Pole Dancers, Walker writes,

These pieces are two fully animated robot pole dancers. They are made from raw materials found in various scrap yards (eg. the motors that animate the pieces are 12V car wiper motors or window motors) and controlled, via a PC, using a DMX lighting programme.
‘PEEPSHOW’ – we are now all living in a peepshow. Continually being watched by mechanical peeping toms. With this in mind, I wondered if it was possible to literally make a CCTV camera sexy using simple mechanics…and by using the imagery of a pole dancer question the roles played in voyeurism. Could this pile of old windscreen wipers and odd pieces of metal become something sexual….
– Street lighting is seven times more effective in cutting crime than CCTV. CCTV has no significant impact on crime statistics.
– Britain is the most monitored country in the world with 4.2 cameras….oh, and 500 000 bins fitted with electronic tracking devices.

Here’s a sleek video of Pole Dancers in action:

The Mutate Britain photo pool is here, and full of great imagery, like this:
Image by muddyclay.
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photo pool: Macro Machine Stuff


On photo sharing site Flickr there’s a new group pool called Macro Machine Stuff (and things), where the main thrust of the user-generated and member found photographs are pure, delicious machinery eye candy. Macro and micro, or just focused detailed images of pumps, assemblies, wiring, gearing, engines, homemade boxes of all kinds, and all manner of unusual mechanical creations — close up. It’s pretty much machine art pr0n, and the photos are stunning.

Image by BentWright.

It’s a small but quickly growing community, and is a fabulous addition to the RSS reader for an occasional dose of machine art beauty of the most mysterious kind; often, we have no idea what we’re looking at, but love what we see. The occasional video is also a nice treat.

Image by BentWright.
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for art machine fans: The Way Things Go

For those unfamiliar with the 1987 film The Way Things Go by Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss, you might want to get better acquainted with a film that is essentially the documentation of what might be one of the largest contemporary art machines ever constructed. Encompassing a 100-foot long warehouse, the mechanism is actually a Rube Goldberg machine — a deliberately overdesigned or overengineered apparatus designed to perform a simple task. In The Way Things Go the task is simple: “go.”
The idea here is that motion (or carrying forward momentum) could be accomplished simply — but where’s the fun in that? Fischli and Weiss combine the right amounts of absurdity, logic-defying feats of gravity, split-second timing and lots of fire and dangerous looking chemistry experiments to make things “go” for almost half an hour. I just got a DVD copy of The Way Things Go ($14.99) as a thoughtful holiday gift. I originally saw it on a big screen while working on a robotics art show in Berlin in 1997 and no one knew the name in English so it took me a while to re-connect with it. The whole thing is 30 minutes of amazingness, and while there may be a few spots that look edited together, it doesn’t take away from the fun (or astonishment) one bit. The DVD is remastered in terrific quality, and has artist bios, a bibliography and individual scene access for extra nerdiness.

Object from The Way Things Go: Aluminium water-jug mounted with wires on roller skates, rope, bundles of wire, pokey knife and coal. (via Tate.org)

For The Way Things Go, Fischli and Weiss used household items, junkyard finds, balloons, chemical reactions, gasoline, tires, tea kettles, slides, fans, garbage bags… and so much more, in the most whimsical manners imaginable. Apparently in May 2003, Honda’s advertising firm Wieden+Kennedy thought it was really cool too — and after Fischli and Weiss repeatedly refused requests for use of The Way Things Go for a Honda commercial, the car company made an ad called Cog. While impressive as an ad *and* a Goldberg machine, it was a pretty blatant takeaway from Fischli and Weiss’ film — and Wieden+Kennedy eventually admitted to copying a sequence of weighted tires rolling uphill, costing Cog a Grand Prix prize at the 2004 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.
Here is four lovely minutes from The Way Things Go:

Here is Honda’s copycat Cog — one success after a reported 605 failures:

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Bay Area “Lighted Boat Parade” gets a firey, art machine surprise

Image from aboard the White Holly by Leslie428.

This was an event I regret not seeing, though fortunately there’s lots of video: apparently every year the snug, smug North Bay city and community of Sausalito’s Yacht Club has a Lighted Boat Parade for the holidays. This year they were joined by the White Holly, a high endurance vessel that was put to the test by a handful of local machine artists who probably gave the parade the show of its life.

Geeked.info wasn’t there, but has a fantastic roundup of the spectacle including video and images, snip:

Unfortunately I wasn’t there, but I saw multiple comments on my Twitter stream of friends mentioning going on a boat, needing ear protection, etc. The best being “It’s like we took Crude Awakening and stuck it on a ship. There’s nowhere to run or hide. God help us.” I wasn’t fully aware of what was planned until the next day.

So what was on the White Holly? Well up front there was Epiphany, a 25′ steel sculpture by Dan Das Mann and Karen Cusolito that many remember from the Crude Awakening installment at Burning Man 2007 or maybe Maker Faire 2008. It had a “beating” heart of fire. There was El Diablo, a jet engine repurposed for shooting fire (and being noisy) by Jack Schroll. There were also flame effects built by the Flaming Lotus Girls and Bob Hofman installed on the boat amidst the Christmas lights. Don’t forget the Tesla coil hanging off the side of the boat upside down sending arcs into the water. And to top it all off, the loudest air raid siren ever produced, the Victory Siren, announced to the entire area that the White Holly had arrived. (…read and watch more, geeked.info)

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distributed squirrel cage for parallel processing

He’s a nice man, and he’s got a good point here. This is Douglas Irving Repetto‘s Distributed Squirrel Cage for Parallel Processing (music.columbia.edu). This could possibly make the Internet Archive run faster, if only they implemented the right amount of nuts — the piece is made of wood, glue, rubber bands, and paper (2008). Just add squirrels and your network will be literally up and running in no time.

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art machines as artists

It struck me when I saw this photo of “Pica the painter robot” from the Center for Intelligent Robots at National Taiwan University of Science and Technology that Pica was not unlike Chico MacMurtrie‘s drawing robot — a big, monkey-like mechanical beast that would, pen in hand, draw interpretively on paper as MacMurtrie’s musical creatures played songs during the artist’s Ancestral Path midi-controlled musical robot phase, seen in part below (drawbot in background):
You can watch and listen to an example of the 1997 show here; I worked for Chico’s Amorphic Robot Works on this show as crew for several weeks in Lisbon, Portugal and Berlin, Germany in 1997 so I did indeed help fix and move the machine(s). That’s the personal Pica connection; Chico made his art machines into machine artists, like Pica.
Now, the makers of Pica are getting ready to create the world’s first (or so they say) Robotic Theater, which will make its debut on Dec. 27 by performing the musical “The Phantom of the Opera.” The China Post says,

The theater is comprised of four intelligent robots developed by the Center for Intelligent Robots at National Taiwan University of Science and Technology.

They include a male robot named Thomas and a female robot named Janet, who can walk and are equipped with silicon facial muscles that enable them to mimic the facial expressions and lip motions of a human being. The other two members of the theater are Pica the painter and Ringo the jazz drummer, who move on two wheels.
Chen Shi-shuenn, president of the university, said the Dec. 27 performance will feature Thomas and Janet as the two leading characters in “The Phantom of the Opera”. (read more, chinapost.com.tw, via Engadget)

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time running out to help NIMBY

San Francisco Bay Area industrial arts space NIMBY is where a lot of kinetic and machine art organizations and individuals had collaborative space to create, and it was recenty shut down by a fire — leaving a lot of machine artists in about a hundred different flavors of pain. NIMBY was home to favorites and friends like Kinetic Steam Works and Interpretive Arson (creators of Dance Dance Immolation). Talking to the artists after the fire would bring moments of indescribable grief — just hold a silently crying art mechanic at a party (as I did) and nothing more needs to be said. All of the artists have banded together to secure a new space, and they only have two days left to raise the remaining funds for the deposit — due this Monday, December 15.

All the details on donating and helping out — plus examples of the fine work that came from NIMBY’s old space is in Refuse To Live Vicariously – Please Help Support NIMBY (laughingsquid.com). Donations are tax-deductible.

Update 12.17: Great news, and yay for community fundraising — I just got word that NIMBY has secured the space!

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