The Art of Science: The Squeaky Reed

John Douglas Powers, Ialu, 2011
John Douglas Powers, Ialu, 2011

The new exhibit of kinetic sculpture at the MIT Museum is called 5000 Parts, which seems like a very low estimate when you consider the work of John Douglas Powers, who creates forms that mimic fields of grain and ocean waves, among other natural patterns of movement.

His sculpture Ialu, included in the show, is made of hundreds of wooden sticks or reeds mounted on beams which are moved by a motor. The reeds sway gently before a video of a cloudy sky. Unlike the idyllic scenes they conjure up, Powers’ sculptures squeak, clatter and groan as they move (watch video of the piece in motion here).  Although in some ways his evocation of the patterns of nature is uncanny, its artificiality is also on full display.

In his materials and gestures, Douglas pays tribute to nature. But his embrace of the mechanical, his unwillingness to hide the machinery, he nods to the extent – and limitations – of human ingenuity.

5000 Parts also features work by Arthur Ganson, Anne Lilly, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, and Takis. It runs through November 2014 at the MIT Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The MIT Museum

I was in Boston a few months ago and managed a visit to the MIT Museum. I found the museum among the geeky travel destinations in the Geek Atlas – very much like my series here, but with more actual science. The Miracle of Science Bar + Grill, which lists its menu on a periodic table behind the bar, is only a few steps away from the MIT Museum, but it wasn’t open when I walked by.

Kismet!
Kismet!

The museum wasn’t open when I got there either. Apparently, getting places early is a thing I do. It was spring break. So, I waited with groups of school kids and their adults. When the doors opened, the groups had to wait to go in. I was able to walk past and immediately went upstairs, where it was still quiet. Upstairs is where you want to go to see the main exhibit. It’s very small, but there are lots of neat things to see. Like Kismet, the robot! (In fact, I just discovered that I saw Kismet on his tenth anniversary of being in the museum!). Continue reading “The MIT Museum”