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I am currently living with two artists, both sculptors. They keep taking me to things like paper mache workshops on weekends and teaching me how to screenprint stuff during holidays. Things get sewn and drawn and built. Booklets and zines are created and our next mission is to get the kiln working so they can teach me how to ‘potter’. Basically, lots of objects are getting made in my life at the moment. Lots of conversations centered around objects and object-making happen, too. Naturally my thoughts turn to objects and, of course, dance.

Objects are interesting because people are interesting. People assign many various things like meaning, value, narrative to objects. People can give objects so much power that I do believe objects are capable of almost anything, dance included. What I mean to say is, objects are not as inanimate as we think they are. Some are made to move, there is motion built into their structure. (And other objects such as socks are capable of moving, read disappearing, all by themselves). The former can sometimes be called kinetic sculpture or kinetic art, which my good friend Wikipedia describes as “art from any medium that contains movement perceivable by the viewer or depends on motion for its effect.” One just needs someone with choreographic intention to create the movement out of objects, resulting with what many people would call dance. In certain contexts I believe the terms ‘dance’ and ‘kinetic art’ are quite interchangeable. Just look at this nice thing.

A while back I came across a video by the American photographer Ralph Steiner. In the 1930s Steiner was making experimental and avante-garde films, one of which was called Mechanical Principles (1930). The ten minute film shows close-ups of various machinery and cogs, calmly going through their repetitive motions. It was originally a silent film, but there are several versions available on YouTube that are set to music. The result of which is the wet dream of a mechanical engineer moonlighting as an artist (or vice versa).

 

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I find there is something deeply soothing about this work. Also something very choreographic from the way in which it has been edited. The simple close-ups and each shot, not lasting very long, bring attention to a rise and fall, a pull and push of movement, all corresponding to a meditative rhythm. The pace of the film is slow, painstakingly so, and I don’t except anyone to sit through all ten minutes but if you do there are some quite nice bits. Aside from its aesthetic beauty, there is a functionality of the machinery that contrasts with the non-usefulness the film itself that I really like.

We so rarely see the sense in technology today, the logic of how laptops work or the visible explanation of how the internet functions is evasive in its complexity. It just seems like incomprehensible magic (to me, at least). The simplicity of this machinery brings me such joy because of its rhythmic and structural sense. Its motion is aesthetic in a way we can recognize because it is a movement that is familiar, almost human.

I’ve attached the version of Mechanical Principles that I prefer. There is another identical version on YouTube with different music. Incidentally, both versions claim the music to be by Eric Beheim. I’m not sure which one (if either) are in fact by Eric Beheim. This is yet another mystery of the internet that I am currently too tired to use the internet to solve. So, here you are:

Also – If you are interested in moving sculpture / kinetic art and want hear someone speak about it in a way that is much more clever and exciting, check out this TedTalk with Arthur Ganson. It’s really great.

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