Tag Archives: kinetic sculpture

Moving Machines in Melbourne

Part of the pump had broken down and red liquid had dripped on to the newspaper lined Vitrine but that didn’t matter. It was bound to have happened with such a complex and pointless machine. And so much else was still turning, extending, flapping, squeezing a ball of wool and a rotating a still life with grapes; all driven by a single electric motor with several belts connecting it to other devices. “Sub Assembly” by Danny Frommer at Platform is a great, wacky creation (see my YouTube video of “Sub Assembly”) and it made me reflect on the other kinetic sculptures in Melbourne.

In 2010 Cameron Robbins “Very Slow Drawing Machine” was installed in the forecourt of the NGV at Federation Square – the Fracture Gallery. Drawing machines are not intended to replace the human in art but to produce more drawings without the artist is attendance. Many artists have made machines that draw, notably Jean Tinguely. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Tinguely Robbins has powered his machine with sustainable solar and wind power. The results of this machine are not impressive; the fan patterns are not anything to write about. (See RMIT’s media release about Cameron Robbins “Very Slow Drawing Machine”.) Still it is always interesting to see kinetic sculpture responding to natural forces, engaging in pointless activities and, even, the occasional break down. For it is these features that makes kinetic sculpture essentially appealing.

Konstantin Dimopolulos, “Red Centre”, 2006

There are more permanent public kinetic sculptures in Melbourne. At Federation Square there is Konstantin Dimopolulos “Red Centre” 2006, Dimopoulos lived in New Zealand and would be familiar with the work of New Zealand artist, Len Lye, the master of kinetic sculptures. “Red Centre” takes some of Lye’s ideas and expands them into a post minimalist sculpture that rattles and sways. Parts of “The Travellers” by Nadim Karan, the sculpture on the Sandridge Bridge over the Yarra, are wind powered; several sets of small metal windmills turn on some of the figures. And, I’m told, that somewhere in the Docklands, there is “Blowhole”, a 15-metre-high, wind-powered sculpture by Sydney artist, Duncan Stemier.

Compared to all of these other kinetic sculptures that I’ve seen in Melbourne, “Sub Assembly” by Danny Frommer is an outstanding example because so many things moved and, most importantly, it is so fun.


The Museum of Electrical Philosophy

The Nicholas Building is the home to a lot of artists from the late Vali Myers (1930-2003) to the very much alive Stephen Giblett. They have their studios and exhibition spaces in the rooms of the Nicholas Building. It is also the home of Collected Works bookstore, the best bookshop for quality literature in Melbourne, along with the Victorian Writers Centre and other interesting shops. It is a wonderful old building that is well worth a visit itself, the mail cute in the stairwell and the antique elevators speak of another era of city office life.

The very name “The Museum of Electrical Philosophy” evokes all kinds of ideas about this prime force. The idea of a strange private museum, like a UFO museum exhibiting in glass cabinets things as evidence for their belief. And it is plausible, after all the Nicholas Building houses the offices of many a small and little known organization. The display at the door changes each month – then it was an electrical circuit that counted itself, kinetic sculptures powered by electric motors including a small revolving Madonna in a crystal. Each of them has had some electrical content.

There is a fringe to the art world, where there is an on going dialogue about the very nature of art and the way it is displayed. The Duchamp code of deconstructing the art world with ordinary objects has expanded to boring the audience with its continuous repetition. In articles by Jean Baudrillard and so many other critics on contemporary art there is an element of despair about this direction. And I felt, having written a thesis about Duchamp’s readymades, that I was part of this unfortunate conspiracy. But there is another side of Duchamp, and consequently the post-Dada fringe, Duchamp’s strange optical machines, his inventions, and chess obsession. It is somewhere between eccentric, prank, madness and life; it is the part that never stopped having fun. This is the part of art that is truly critical of the boredom of contemporary art, the alternative, experimental part outside of the art galleries. It is the Dadaist element manifest not just in street art, or zines but also in the creations like Jim Hart’s “Museum of Electrical Philosophy”.

“The Museum of Electrical Philosophy” examines the aesthetics of the museum, the act of putting things on display under a title. It makes us think about the evolution of the wunderkammers and cabinets of curiosity towards contemporary exhibition practices (I recommend reading Umberto Eco, Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages, 1986).  I haven’t seen that many museums-as-art before; Tsuyoshi Ozawa’s “Museum of Soy Sauce Art” (1999) was complete with a fake history, curatorial notes, a kiosk, and ancient, modern and contemporary soy sauce art. Another was the “Museum of Modern Oddities” (2001) that had its own curators and guidebook to explain the exhibits, combining both visual and performing arts. “The Museum of Electrical Philosophy” may be the smallest of these museums but it is a continuous one.

And, of course, there is the Museum of Electrical Philosophy Blog where Jim Hart writes about the Museum and the Nicholas Building.

(This blog entry is an edited version of an entry published in my old blog, Culture Critic @ Melbourne. My old blog has since been taken down for reasons beyond my control but I thought that this entry was worth republishing as the Museum of Electrical Philosophy is still operating.)


Len Lye @ ACMI

“An artist in perpetual motion, Len Lye” is a retrospective at ACMI’s screen gallery. Filmmaker, poet, painter and kinetic sculptor or should that be kinetic sculptor, filmmaker, photographer, batik artist and doodler? There are many sides to the work of Len Lye.

I have seen Len Lye’s art in various exhibitions, art fairs and museums for the past two decades. Sometimes in surprising places like in the Belgium Centre for Comic Strips where he is noted for his pioneering abstract color animation. One year at the Melbourne Art Fair the gonging from his sculpture could be heard around the Exhibition building at regular intervals. Len Lye was this strange phenomenon of an artist going off in all directions simultaneously.

The Len Lye retrospective at ACMI helped me to get a view of this moving subject. Even as I looked at the exhibition I didn’t know if I was going to write about Lye’s connection with the Dadaist filmmakers, his kinetic sculpture, his interest in indigenous art or something completely different.

The exhibition, as you might expect from ACMI, shows many of Lye’s short experimental films. Lye’s short animated films with their jazz soundtracks are enjoyable to watch, there is plenty of movement and color. The exhibition also displays some film stock, the tools and techniques that Lye used to create them. Len Lye’s ‘direct filmmaking’ techniques of scratching and painting on the film owe their freedom to Dadaist’s like Man Ray, Hans Richter and Viking Eggeling. Lye was in contact with major European avant-garde filmmakers as early as 1929. Before this exhibition I didn’t know about his connections with Dadaist filmmaker Hans Richter, demonstrated by Lye’s photogram of Richter in 1947 and a group photograph including Lye and Richter from 1929.

The artistic freedom and novelty of abstract kinetic sculptures, combining movement with geometry, was a high modernist ideal. Len Lye’s kinetic sculptures are amongst greatest kinetic sculptures along with the mobiles of Alexander Calder. The formal beauty of Lye’s sculptures in motion can be easily appreciated in the large dark space of the screen gallery; they are well light and the moving steel sculptures stands out against the dark walls.

There was surprise of the exhibition, for me, as I am interested in the history of stencils in art due to Melbourne’s stencil art. Len Lye used stencils in his ‘direct filmmaking’ techniques used in Rainbow Dance, 1936 and also in Musical Poster, 1942. Lye used both metal (tin or lead sheet metal) and paper stencils. Using stencils allowed Lye to paint repeating patterns onto celluloid film. Lye also used stencils and sprayed lacquer on plywood in Ice Age, 1938.

After this free major retrospective exhibition I now have a much better appreciation of the art of Len Lye. This is not a review of the retrospective exhibition; there are so many facets of Lye’s art in this exhibition that someone else will find different topics to focus on. The subject of Len Lye keeps on moving.


A few good exhibitions

The Ian Potter Museum of Art has a survey exhibition of Dale Hickey and The Vizard Foundation Art Collection of 1990s. The State Library of Victoria has an exhibition that they call “the Medieval Imagination” even though most of the manuscripts on display were from the Renaissance. I saw all of these exhibitions but I’m sure that they will be reviewed elsewhere in the arts media. All of these exhibitions were looking back, but this review will look to the future. And at exhibition that are unlikely to be reviewed elsewhere, not because of a lack of quality but a lack of marketing budget.

Brunswick Arts is exhibiting Launch, by recent fine arts graduates, an impressive contemporary group exhibition. The exhibition is dominated by Will MacDonald’s sound installation, Close to the Edit. It is an awesome but subtle sound, a complex drone or a didgeridoo like a LaMonte Young composition, hard to tell with all the distortion. And it has been installed in an intriguing way; I wanted to look into the steel garbage bin, just to see. By placing containers of water on the speakers the sound waves are translated into ripples on the surface of the water. These ripples are extraordinarily beautiful, transient, chaotic forms. And the vibrations of the containers add too and distort the sound.

The other work ranges from the mystical beauty of Monika Andrew Poray’s meditations, in a number of different media, on a pot plant. To the disgusting, but intriguing, work of Amanda Jean Filleul who has made a dinner set of “regurgitated bread” along with a video of her chewing the bread. There is the curious miniature world of Julie Skeggs’s installation and photographs. Masha Makarova was exhibiting spiky bronze and steel sculptures and quirky cast sugar sculptures elegantly placed on a mirror.

And at the LaTrobe Street Gallery, the shopfront part of the LaTrobe College of Art & Design, Jim Hart is showing “No User-Serviceable Parts Inside – exhibits from the Museum of Electrical Philosophy”. This is a gallery exhibition of quirky kinetic sculptures that Jim Hart has been showing in his Museum of Electrical Philosophy, a small window in the door to Room 603 in the Nicholas Building.

Face Crumpets Inward, a toaster with a knife and fork going in and out of it, has the instant humour of danger. Some of the sculptures, the whirling dervishes especially, reminded me of kinetic sculptures by Len Lye and Pol Bury, the masters of kinetic art. But Jim Hart’s sense of humour and knowledge of science gives his kinetic sculpture additional qualities.


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