Arthur Can Make a Machine That Waves Goodbye

MIT sculptor Arthur Ganson is on a roll, creating machines that whir and clack as they seem to take on a life of their own

"Machine with 22 Scraps of Paper" by Arthur Ganson in Art Electronica Museum of Future
"Machine with 22 Scraps of Paper" by Arthur Ganson in Art Electronica Museum of Future Wikimedia Commons

For a decade and a half, kinetic sculptor Arthur Ganson has been building machines that transcend their very "machineness." They do nothing, but work extraordinarily well, particularly at making people laugh. Anyone can build a machine that can wave, says one astute observer. "Arthur knows how to make a machine that waves goodbye."

One of his works, Machine with Chair, (installed at Inventure Place, the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio), is an 800-pound behemoth that rolls along a track, plucks a bentwood chair out of its way, lifts and flips the chair with a baroque flourish and sets it safely down again behind itself. Other Ganson machines bathe themselves in grease or oil, unfold Chinese fans, chirp like birds, dust frantically, breathe deeply and even talk back via handwritten notes.

Ganson is not one who likes to talk a lot about art theory and history, but the influences of Swiss kinetic sculptor Jean Tinguely and Bauhaus painter Paul Klee are apparent. His works also recall Constructivism, Dada and Surrealism. A recent commercial offshoot of Ganson's imagination are toys called Toobers and Zots, colorful foam tubes and variously shaped pieces that children can bend and fit together to make otherworldly creatures and the like.

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