Things That Go Bump: A Kinetic Installation Art Roundup

Stephanie Cristello

Looking at Kinetic art is one of the most electrifying experiences for a viewer to witness. It is physical, functional, tangible, and intensely demands its presence through motion. The object’s movements allow the artist to create an animated environment for the viewer to enter; a conceptual dialogue is formed through the object’s relation to space as well as the viewer’s perception of this environment. Kinetic pieces can be both agile and cathartic, since it lends itself to the installation almost as much as it does to its construction.

Joseph Kohnke: Marked, 2006

Its physicality creates a fictional realm that is able to capture you and transport you to a world where these objects are actually possible. These next three artists combine Kinetic sculpture with special attention to Installation, and they’re damn good at it.

Joseph Kohnke’s work is based on creating conditions, or systematic environments, in where artificial materials are forced to translate into a state of spirituality. What things are, and what things can become through movement, is a transformation between the existing and the constructed, between the real and the surreal.

By using audio-based and stationary environments to house his technologic creatures, everyday inanimate objects are converted (in the most spiritual sense) from their static state into one that gives them life. Kohnke’s Kinetic installations are deeply rooted in creating a metaphysical experience for the viewer, and we cannot help question the difference between his world and ours.

Bill Smith uses his fascination with nature to explore the mechanics and complexities that occur in organic environments. We cannot help but feel a sense of wonder from his work; his translation of existing systems is playful, making us want to become a part of his creation, wanting to get involved.

Bill Smith, Installation Plan

“I build things the way I think nature would, had it had the same motives and materials, everything in the world exhibits behavior,” begins Smith on describing his process. “The mountains, just like computers and all life-forms, function based on what they’re made of and how they’re put together. It is natural for things to behave, and man’s art and his technology is no different.”

decline of the eastern song bird from bill smith on Vimeo.

This examination of this natural behavior is nowhere better exhibited than in Smith’s Decline of the Eastern Song Bird. Although the object is still upon entering the space, it seems too still; the element of potential becomes overwhelming, the silence becomes unnatural. But then we pull the lever- and high-pressured flames begin to fire, wild and musically they hum the tune of a forest, of songbirds. We are transported to somewhere natural, but not allowed to fully escape our surroundings. We faced with its existence; if this song should have to be replicated in such a life-like way, it must not exist in the space where it should.

Madeleine Bailey’s approach to her kinetic sculpture comes from a more grounded installation and performative background. The way she makes the viewer interact with the spaces creates an intersection between the playful and the uncomfortable; there is always something naively unsettling about her work.

Madeleine Bailey, Nonwithstanding, 2009

The element of transparency in her work lures us into her environments on a very intimate level. Unlike most kinetic works, hers strive to show every gear, every wire and every movement of every confused circuit.

Portable Discontent, 2008, combines all of these processes through Bailey’s use of 6 lamps that turn on and off simultaneously and sporadically to the pattern of S.O.S signals. There is something oddly poetic about her use of materials, her estrangement of these domestic objects, which are being used to communicate a sense of non-home. The viewer is faced with the space that exists between rescue and resolution, but there is no guarantee that these signals will ever be heard; their translation leaves us unable of knowing where are coming from. It leaves us lost in the woods, so to speak, grappling to find these signals’ lost souls somewhere in the ether.