Dubbed ‘the break from Shakespeare’, the MAD museum in Stratford-upon-Avon celebrates kinetic art and automata in weird and wonderful ways. With over 60 extraordinary pieces on display, welcome to the MADhouse.
For an engineer, there can be nothing more satisfying than deciphering an intricate machine’s parts. At the MAD (mechanical art and design) museum, the collection of kinetic art and automata gives a light-hearted, imaginative and playful twist to engineering precision and technology with sounds, movement and colour to stir the imagination.
1. The colourful ‘Oval with Split and Floating Circles - Double Pink’ and ‘Twisted Yellow Cones’ by David Press is made from cotton, bent wood and laminated wood. The lighting of the pieces is synchronised with music. Press describes the MAD museum as “exactly what a museum should be – thought-provoking, visually amazing and a place that attracts people of all ages. It is an international gem.”
2. ‘Patterns’ by Dutch artist Jennifer Townley is based on the principle of a dual pendulum. Four beams are connected to each other by axles with bearings and they rotate, with a coloured LED installed on the end of each beam. The four-part pendulum leaves momentary patterns on the viewer’s retina which are never repeated. The piece is made from wood, metal, an electric motor, mechanical parts and bright LEDs.
3. Kinetic artist David C Williams prefers traditional ‘nut and bolt’ technology, using Meccano to build the prototype of ‘Down With Gravity’. Williams says: “The final Meccano maquette is transposed into copper tube for the ‘chassis’ and brass strip for the track. The skill is in accurate measurement and marking out of the brass prior to drilling and the bouncing is by calculation and trial and error.”
4. Jennifer Townley’s ‘De Rode Draad’ is made from wood, metal, an electric motor, mechanical parts and red thread. Twelve white gears drive each other and rotate at the same speed. Townley says the museum is a unique place that “displays great variation, from simple and playful objects to highly engineered art pieces. What makes exhibiting there so wonderful is that besides art lovers, lots of other people get in touch with your work. It is a very accessible place.”
5. Another enigmatic piece by Jennifer Townley, ‘Lift’, is run by an electric motor and consists of sprocket-wheels connected by a long chain. The smaller sprockets have non-centred axes so their rotational speed constantly changes. “I had to build the piece in an experimental way, by trial and error,” Townley said.
6. Townley’s visually stunning ‘Alahambra’ is based on Islamic culture, with the arrow patterns intertwining and moving. The mechanical construction rotates the figures at varying speeds and directions, with new geometric patterns constantly appearing to the viewer.
7. John Morgan’s ‘Tempus Fugit’ is a combination of art, woodwork and sculpture. He has been involved in kinetic sculpture for over 30 years and is a professor of graphic design at Auburn University, Alabama. ‘Tempus Fugit’ (which takes its name from the Latin for ‘time flies’) is made from poplar, brass and acrylic paint. Morgan says: “I have visited several automata museums and some hands-on science museums, but nothing compares to the variety offered by MAD. As an artist I am pleased to be included with some of my automata heroes.”
8. German artist Willi Reiche likes to construct his machines from old-fashioned items that he has collected through the years and his work ‘Hommage’ (Tribute) is a great example of this. Reiche comments that his artistic experience over time has shown him that kinetic art “provides an excellent opportunity to engage with technology and engineering.”
9. ‘Mephisto’, also by Willi Reiche, was exhibited when MAD museum first opened in 2009, which the artist regarded as a great honour. Reflecting on the distinguishing features of kinetic art, he comments: “A static sculpture occupies a given space in a particular manner. The space in and around the sculpture defines its presence. When we add movement to the equation, everything changes. The shape changes, the space around the shape changes and the relationship of the parts in a mechanical sense changes too.”
10. The wacky and colourful ‘Les Méchanismes de l’argent’ (Money Mechanism) by Swiss artist Pascal Bettex has no kinetic pattern and is made from recycled materials. It is designed to boggle the mind with its random movements. Bettex discovered his passion for kinetic art at just 10 years old in 1963 when he visited a Jean Tinguely exhibition in Basel, and has been said to use his vivid imagination to pay homage to artists like Tinguely with his work. He enjoys restoring old machinery and explains: “My aim in creating kinetic sculptures, using ancient tools, machines or mechanisms, is to show our predecessors’ skill and inventiveness about technology in a pleasant and unusual form.”
11. This image is a close-up of a robust-looking piece by Garth Kennedy called ‘Number Four’.Made from wood and metal, its main movements are based on a rocking beam engine. Kennedy says: “It is essentially a double stroke air compressor with external valves, driving a horizontal turbine on one stroke, with extending and retracting spokes. The other stroke blows two wooden whistles and there is a ratchet wheel with a bell, driven off the end of a crankshaft.”
12.‘Kick or Kiss’ is an eye-catching piece by Willi Reiche, who says: “The parts are a collection of anachronistic items I have been accumulating over the years. The mechanics are partially empirical and they still remain comprehensible to the beholder. These antiquated parts which awaken remembrances and associations are easily recognisable.”
13.‘L’incomparable’ (the unrivalled) by Pascal Bettex is based on an old machine that was used to wash bottles. Like ‘Les Méchanismes de l’argent’, this piece is made from recycled materials and metal.
14.Another image of Garth Kennedy’s ‘Number Four’ showing the full extent of the structure. Kennedy says of the MAD museum: “I don’t believe there is anywhere else like it. To be able to exhibit my work alongside others of similar ilk is a great joy. Kinetic or moving sculpture occupies a totally different place in the ‘Arts’. There are no limits in terms of material, methods of construction, form and movement. The machine becomes art.”
15.The symmetrical appearance of David C Williams’ ‘Signum Detector’ is all down to his precise calculations and ensuring his execution and construction is ruled by geometrics. Williams comments: “Many people today are unaware of mechanical principles, as mechanics in general has been surpassed by electronics, or machines are shrouded from view.”
16. Pascal Bettex’s ‘Le Picoreur’ (the pecking bird) is a beautiful piece made from recycled materials, moving forwards and backwards to mimic a bird feeding or pecking. It is based on an angle bend from a ventilation shaft. Bettex said: “The two counterweights turn at different speeds, so that the bird rocks from time to time.”
17. Another image of Willi Reiche’s ‘Mephisto’. Reiche says the MAD Museum “offers a quality experience besides the tourist attractions relating to Shakespeare.”
Visit the MAD Museum website: themadmuseum.co.uk