Kinetic sculpture relies on movement for visual and emotional impact. It has taken a wide variety of forms, from motorised mechanics to naturally powered elements in both indoor and outdoor settings. Many of the most well-known examples of kinetic sculpture exist as dramatic, large scale outdoor public art and harness natural forces of energy, such as solar power, gravity, wind or magnetism. Anthony Howe’s intricate, wind powered machines are a prime example. Artist Theo Jansen writes: “Kinetic art was created by artists who pushed the boundaries of traditional, static art forms to introduce visual experiences that would engage the audience and profoundly change the course of modern art.”
Kinetic sculpture was popularised in the early 20th century when artists including Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Naum Gabo began integrating electric machinery into their abstract, geometric art, echoing a general cultural fascination with industry and the machine age. Swiss painter and sculptor Jean Tinguely was also fascinated by the possibilities of movement in art and created various kinetic sculptures including anthropomorphic assemblages of motors with flashing lights and brightly colored metal wheels.
In the 1930s Alexander Calder made delicate, suspended indoor sculptures as hanging mobiles intended to gently sway in the wind, exploring the natural movement of air. The landmark exhibition Le Mouvement at Galerie Denise Rene in Paris in 1955 cemented the rising trend for kinetic art into a verified art movement and it soon became an international phenomenon, celebrated in the iconic show The Responsive Eye in 1965.
Paris’ Group de Recherche d’Art Visuel (GRAV) continued to explore ways kinetic sculpture could be integrated into public art environments, leading the way for various artists to follow throughout the 1970s and beyond. American artist George Rickey picked up on the trend, exploring Minimalist structures in his outdoor public art. Many of his abstract kinetic sculptures were made from metallic fragments that sway, shift and creak with wind currents and suggest a hint of menacing threat, including Two Lines up Excentric VI, 1977.
Technological developments in the last few decades have revolutionised the possibilities open to artists creating kinetic sculpture today. Many have tapped in to the potential for robotics and computer technology to extend traditional, expressive languages of mark making. Karina Smigla Bobinski’s mind boggling, giant kinetic drawing machine, ADA, 2018, is a helium membrane covered in charcoal sticks that roams and marks freely onto white walls.
Others forge links with new media art, seizing the opportunities technology offers to create surreal, unexpected results. In Richard Wilson’s epic intervention Turning the Place Over, 2008-2011, a section of a disused building in Liverpool was cut out and placed on a motor to rotate at an oblique angle.
Geoffrey Drake-Brockman’s robotic, kinetic sculpture Headspace, features nearly 300 moving metallic rods, while Theo Jansen’s animated sculptures fuse art with engineering. Pioneering kinetic artist Liliane Lijn takes a more delicate approach, combining aspects of movement with poetry and light art to create pristine, yet slightly unstable sculptures that tremble and shake on motorised turntables.
In 2007 the Kinetica Art Fair was established as a leading platform for the celebration of international new media art with a distinctly digital, kinetic belt, which often bleeds into the arenas of light art and new media art. Artists they have celebrated over the years include Paul Frielander, an ex-physicist who creates moving light art installations with an ephemeral nature and Tim Lewis, who creates strange, surreal objects such as man-machine hybrids, revealing the endless possibilities that exist in kinetic art today.
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