Kinetic sculptor Arthur Ganson shows a series of his works and explores how his intricate machines address issues of time, motion, purpose and existence.
Stewart Brand is co-founder and president of The Long Now Foundation and co-founder of Global Business Network. He created and edited the Whole Earth Catalog (National Book Award), and co-founded the Hackers Conference and The WELL. His books include The Clock of the Long Now; How Buildings Learn; and The Media Lab. His most recent book, titled Whole Earth Discipline, is published by Viking in the US and Atlantic in the UK.
Arthur Ganson is a renowned kinetic sculptor. Ganson makes mechanical art demonstrations and Rube Goldberg machines with existential themes. Ganson has held residencies in science museums, collaborated with the Studebaker Movement Theatre, and been featured in one-man shows at MIT Museum, Harvard's Carpenter Center, the DeCordova Museum, and the Ricco/Maresca Gallery in New York. He has a permanent installation at the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He was a MIT artist-in-residence and some of his work is on permanent display at the Gestural Engineering exhibit at MIT Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
As the director of the Long Now Foundation, Alexander Rose has facilitated projects such as the 10,000 Year Clock with Danny Hillis, the Rosetta Project, Long Bets, Seminars About Long Term Thinking, Long Server and others. Rose shares several design patents on the 10,000 Year Clock with Danny Hillis, the first prototype of which is in the Science Museum of London.
Hired as the first employee of the foundation in February of 1997, Rose has been an artist in residence at Silicon Graphics Inc., a project manager for Shamrock Communications, and a founding partner of Inertia Labs. Rose attended the Art Center College of Design and graduated with a bachelor of arts honors degree from Carnegie Mellon University in Industrial Design in 1995.
Kinetic sculptor Arthur Ganson explains Machine for Softening Hardened Hearts, a new machine he built that allows the user to caress the heart of Adolf Hitler. The piece explores the personal nature of evil and forgiveness.
"It's really about the evolution of the soul," he says.
Hello, I'm Alexander Rose, the Executive Director at The Long Now Foundation. Along time ago, actually not that long ago now I guess but one of our fellows Stuart Candyproposed this idea who is here today with us. Where is Stuart? There is Stuart proposedthis idea of doing what he called long shorts. So short movies about cool long-termprojects that kind of get the idea across. And a few months ago, two Austrian guys, I'dnever heard of sent some photographs into the Rosetta Project actually I think throughLaura Welcher, a project that they did in Hawaii and it was by far one of the coolest LongNow inspired projects I had seen. And so I asked them to make the first of long shortsand so we're going to try and show them before some of these talks. This is a 5-minutevideo, it's by White Elephant Studios. Tobias Kestel & Florian Puschmann and Tobias ishere tonight and I'll start the video. And he came out all the way from Australia for thatlittle applause, thank you, Austria, sorry. So I'm going to start the video and then Stuartwill introduce Arthur Ganson and enjoy your evening.That reminds me of going to the movies when I was young, there was always a short subject beforethe main feature. Next weÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ll have cartoons and newsreels redo the wholething. Imagine, how pleased archeologists of the future will be when there is date stampson the various stratographic layers. The Long Now clock, the 10,000 year clock weÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢rebuilding in one mountain and then another mountain is a work of kinetic art and as suchnow only weÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢re paying attention to horologist people have been designing clocks for along time but to a lot of other artists who work with mechanical things. You can see oneon the right hand side of the stage. Arthur Ganson has been that at for the 30 years. Heis very, very adept not only to the things work well and present well, they inspirethoughts well. So he is here to tell us about it tonight. Arthur Ganson?Hello. All right, thank you very much. It's really a pleasure to be here. And its always alittle daunting to come up on to a stage and talk about the work because really I make thiswork because I'm most comfortable like isolating myself in my studio and if you canimagine I'm sure there are lot of people in the audience who are like that and you knowwhat that is to be in your solitary space and to work. So, it's a little strange to take someof the thoughts and to translate them into words, but I'm going to do my best and I'll seeif I can make some sense out of things. Thank you Stuart for inviting me. I reallyappreciate it. Thank you Alexander and everybody else in the foundation who has beenso wonderful and helping to set this up. I really appreciate it.What I'm going to do is I'm going to give you a sense of how I work. I'm going to talkabout many different pieces. I'm going to see if I can thread this idea of time through thework. Time is always a critical component for me and sometimes I think about time in avery conscious way where time itself becomes part of the subject of the piece andsometimes I don't at all where time is just naturally behind the scenes. We decided tocall the talk machines in the breath of time and I've been thinking a lot about what thatmeans and what it could mean and I think the most important way for me to think aboutthat is that just as we breathe and I've been doing yoga lately and I've learned that in mypractice my breath is the continuity through everything else. Its basically the underlyingforce of continuity if I can always come to the breath and the breath is essential and thebreath is always bringing me back to the present moment. I think the time itself is like abreath for these machines because they can exist without the passage of time, they canexist as physical objects but really when I came to make sculpture without really thinkingabout it, I found myself creating pieces that moved and I think for some reason I was justnot interested in really just the physical object itself but in the object as it is in the state ofbecoming, as its changing. So this notion of breath and time is always there in thebackground and I'll talk about it in different ways.A few things I want to say about the work and about understanding the work is that I'llgive you some of my thoughts about it but I have a very strong feeling that in order forthe piece to have any true meaning for anyone, they create the meaning. So if you feel aconnection with anything, it's not really in the piece but it's really in you and it's all aboutyour own experience that what you're bringing to it and it's inseparable. So I think a lotabout the fact that these machines come from a place deep within myself and they I kindof wrestle them into being, into physicality, they start in a very not physical way and theystart as an idea, they start as a feeling, they start as a question and there is always a reallike wrestling, I think wrestling is a good word of like how to bring this into some sort ofa physical manifestation and then its here like this thinking chairs here as a physical thingbut you're observing it and all of your thoughts about it, everything you feel about it istrue, its irrelevant what I feel about it at that point. And if we talk about this feeling ofthe long now which I love thinking about this concept, I think the machine start in aneternal place and then there in a physical place which is just really temporary and its onlymatter of time before these will break but I have this feeling that where they are whenthey are perceived and they are taken into someone's consciousness to their spirit or totheir heart, then that feels like its an eternal place and that's really a way of thinkingabout the long now for me.So, when you leave here, forget everything that I say because really any words that I haveabout them are kind of irrelevant and the most important thing would be your directexperience of it. So I want to talk a little bit about this thinking chair piece because Iwanted to bring this physical object. The thinking chair occurred to me there is a placenear my studio in the woods that I find myself going to and walking. And I've done thisfor many years where I'll just go to a particular rock outcropping and I find myselfwalking in circles on this particular rock outcropping. It's a very meditative thing to doand then I found out that that is actually many traditions that use walking in circles as aform of meditation. But I was doing this naturally and one day I found a stone that wassort of on the side of this rock outcropping and I just had the thought that I wanted tomake this self portrait, this thinking chair and I think actually the title is not very good. Ithink I'm going to change the title at some point if you can do that after the fact becausereally its not so much of thinking chair but more kind of being a chair, that's what I feelor a feeling chair.So, the chair is going to on the side and it's going to be walking in circles and it will beand kind of like a clock for this talk, kind of like a mantra, a circular mantra for thisexperience. So I'm going to take you back to how I started to make these machines andI'll take you first back away before I made any machines and I had the impulse to want tomake moving things, the first thing that I did when I was probably in like 5th or 6th gradewas I made animated movies and I would draw them on the edge of books and I have oneof them here. Now, we just discovered that the screen is not showing part of the bottomand part of the right, so I hope that you can actually see the movie but this is a littleanimation that I called the great race. And I remember drawing this, I remember thatwhat was in my mind in that moment was that there were these two cars that were goingto run down the road and they was a boulder in the road and all I wanted to do was Iwanted to imagine how the cars once they hit the boulder would begin to flip over andturn over and how the drivers in the cars would be flown out of the cars and there is a lotviolence of course because when you're a kid youÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢re totally into violence. So I'm goingto play this, lets just see how this goes. I hope you can see it.So then there is the rock and I remember drawing this, I remember clearly, you see thereis a lot of. Now here is more gratuitous violence, so it's like an ambulance coming,crazy. So when I first started to make, oh! Boy we're losing now you can imagineMadeline's fragile machine. When I first started to make physical objects, it was in latehigh school and I have to say I was drawn to work with my hands because I was sopainfully shy that I was not able to really talk to people, I could talk a little bit but reallyabout what I was feeling in my heart, I was terrified of sharing what I was feeling. And Ifound that a way that I could compensate or get around or to express myself is that Iwould make things for my friends and for people I cared about and when I think back onit now, it was all I could do to tell people that I love them by making things. So I'mtelling you this because its sort of the umbrella under which all of this work existsbecause it was the foundational impulse for me to start to make anything and its alwaysthere, its always in the background of wanting to express really what's in my heart.And just very briefly its kind of odd that I came to make machines because in high school,I was in love with two subjects biology because I had a wonderful biology teacher Mr.Mr. D'Aglio, who changed my life in ways that I'm just now discovering. And also Ispent my senior year in high school programming computers. I was completely obsessedwith programming basic. And I just like wrote computer programs all day long, totallyobsessed with it. So there is a part of me that loves that wonderful sort of logical flow ofprogramming. And I think also because I was in so in love with biology and workingwith my hands that was another aspect of me. And when I went to college, I had no ideawhat I would do. So I came into college, actually in the premed program imagining that Iwould go into medical school and become a surgeon because I just had this sort of verynaive dream that I would love to do surgery. I think maybe in one sense I could havedone surgery if that was just doing surgery but there was so much else that I had to dealwith in terms of information to memorize, I mean I loved a lot of the courses in premedbut my brain cannot remember information, so surgery and med school started to lookdim but at the same time, I was talking art courses and I started to fall in love with justthe hours and hours of drawing and that sort of meditative state of being with thedrawing.So accidentally, in my sophomore year just responding to some project that I was givenand my school UNH in New Hampshire was very traditional art program, I didn't gobecause of the art program but it has a really good art program. I was doing bronzecasting and oil painting and print making and for some reason I was given some 3Ddesign project and I started to solder up a few little pieces of wire and I made a little gearand just a very simple little mechanism because I knew how to solder because I had madea heath kit which is a little electronics tools. So I sort of knew that, I'll put somethingtogether and all of this sudden this whole world opened up and I didn't know at that pointbut I can look back and I can see what was happening that I started to make these veryfragile and I'm going to run this because this is not an early piece, a lot of early pieceshave fallen apart because they were tin lead soldered but this is very a kin to what I wasdoing when I first started to work with wire.So I found myself making this very complex mechanisms and part of the challenge ofmaking these was the physical challenge of holding the pieces of wire in space as I solderthem. And as the wire was getting hot because I was using a tin lead solder it starting toburn my fingers and it was very much a physical challenge to see if I could actually buildthese things. So this was me doing my surgery, I created a little world in which I couldbe a surgeon. And because I was creating these mechanisms in space I think that was thepart of me that wanted to be a computer programmer. I could take all of that logicalcausing effect that always thought a little bit dry because it was just in code and I coulddo all of that in 3D space and it felt visceral. And then working with wire, it became lineand space, I'm drawing and space, so I could take all of my feelings and put them intothese little fragile machines. So that's how these started with me and I've never studiedengineering in any formal way, its just been 30 years of making a mistake every time butslowly learning, slowing learning through intuition about how things move and how thingsfeel when they move. But the impulse for me to work has always been to followthe feeling of the piece. I've always been driven to want to express a feeling. Thanks.And in many ways those fragile machines they are like close to oil painting as I can getbecause those pieces that machine evolved, it just grew and its very much about plantgrowth. Now this is a fairly early piece I called it the busyness man its kind of about thisfrenzy feeling of time. This little man has a long, he is in his long now a frenziness. Sohe is a little plastic figure, he is about like 3 inches tall and I remember designing thispiece I started with the man, I created a kind of a general framework, I didn't think abouthow the mechanism would have to be designed beforehand and I gave myself theproblem the challenge of having a hand crank that would all enter in one direction and Ihad to solve all of the problems of making him walk back and forth by having a crank inone direction. And those initial conditions lead to that piece. And there is nothing inthese machines that is superfluous. All of the parts are therefore a mechanical functionalreason but of course I have great latitude with how I use the wire. But everything is therefor a true functional.Now there is a piece of knotted string there, now this machine was done maybe about 15years ago and I graduated from just tin lead soldering. I learned very slowly, is like Ievolved very slowly. All of the first machines they were all put together with tin leadsolder electrical soldered and any joints were under stressed ultimately just broke. Sonow basically what I'm doing is I'm spark welding the wire and silver soldering the wire.In contrast, here is a very simple machine that is called machine with Chinese fan andreally just imagining, just opening a Chinese fan what does it feel like and I wanted tomake the machine. I'm going to stop this for one second. I think a lot about this edgebetween clarity and ambiguity and I think that there is a golden very important placewhen we were working in the arts that if the object is crystal clear and completelyambiguous at the same time I think that is the condition that allows a viewer to bothcomprehend and not understand it and then naturally to make sense you're going tocreate your own story with it. If its too clear then there is not enough to dream with and Ithink if its too ambiguous then maybe there is not enough to dream. So there is kind of afine line that I tried to hit.Now, this piece really started of as a very simple toy. I mean sometimes the pieces I feellike they give me back more than I put it and I was just playing with the wishbone afterdinner one day imagining that this was a cowboy who had been on his horse for too long.Now I want you to forget all of that because then that's like distorts you but that's reallyhow this happened and in a very playful way just taking the wishbone and walking itacross the table and I thought well, I could just make a drill machine that would cause thewishbone to move in that manner. And then if he machine itself was just on wheels thenthe wishbone to drag its machine, so it becomes kind of a confusing, it's a little bit ofparadox. Now once I got the machine done I feel like because the wishbone is partanimal then that's of course where we enter and I feel like of course all of these machinesare self portraits and so I feel like that is me and very much I always feel like that but I'mlearning, I'm slowly learning.Okay, machine with concrete, this piece I made a number of versions of and the firstpiece came to me I remember the moment I was walking by the GSD at HarvardUniversity and I just had this thought, it was kind of a mathematical playful thought that Icould take a series or reduction gears and if I made the reduction sufficient enough then Icould create a kind of a strange situation and I was imagining that if I took a series ofworm reductions and if I took a reduction of 1/50 and then started to stack 1/50 upon1/50, then I could come up with a machine where one end would move so slowly that itmight as well be fixed and not moving at all. And I remember the first manifestation ofthe piece I made out of wire and it didn't express the idea at all. I was just working, Iwas caught in the math of it and I wasn't really feeling it and I made like a little spiraltower with these wire gears that I make, it turned a little bottom crank and it was thesame principal and the top gears were actually soldered in place but nobody knew it, youcouldn't see it, so it didn't really convey the feeling. So after that I re-envisioned and Irealized I have to use substantial gears, I have to use wheel materials that you can get afeeling sense for. So I made this piece, machine with concrete.Now what you see there, there is the last gear that's embedded in concrete and this is aseries of 12 50 to 1 reductions. The motor is turning it 212 revolutions a minute, now thepan across, so the first one is turning 1/50 of that and the next one is 1/50 of that and1/50 of that and before too long its moving so slowly that it will take the last gear 2.191trillion years to turn. So we get to that point, you can do anything. Is that considered along now? I don't know. So I embedded it in concrete and I thought about manymanifestations conversions of this that I've made just two others but one piece that I haveyet to make that I really want to do is to have the machine, the mechanism trailing of andthen the mechanism is actually looks like its been melted of the pedestal, so you have aworking machine on one end and then you have the melted machine on the other.I was then asked to make another version for a museum in Germany and so I made thisnext version which I don't have a video of but you can get a sense, I used these spur gearsand I oriented them at a slight angle and the difference with this version is that the largegear you're going to see an image, the large gear there is actually cut through the block ofcement, so very clearly its not going to move. In this care there are many more gears andI forgot with the exact ratio of that one is. But then I was just recently invited to be a partof a show in Austria and they really wanted to show the machine with concrete and Iwanted to make another one and to actually think more about what the final reductionwould be because with the first two, I had created the machine but hadn't reallycontemplated how slow it should go and what's it about and I decided that a nice targetpoint would be the big bang which people some scientists imagine is 13.7 give or take afew billion years but 13.7 billon years that's what I've read.So I made the next machine and unfortunately I don't have video of this one either butthat's what it looks like. This is like so awful to just have this moving machine but justshow a picture of it and I'm showing you a picture because sometimes or very often thesubtitle for my work is machines in the nick of time and I had to get these piece sent off tothe show and I literally got it done and into the crate the moment the shipper was arrivingand I was going crazy I don't have time to take a picture of it or take any video and thenit went away. And this image was actually shot by the people at the show. But the lastgear which is embedded in that block is will turn once every very closely once every13.7 billion years and I decided that this one I would title beholding the big bang becauseit feels very much like I'm looking back to that point and as I think about these machines,its not about the math, its not about the ratios, for me its about the feeling of the intenseactivity that's going on the left and the very quite stillness that's happening on the right.And its very much about this duality that I feel actually in my own being which isbeholding my own action, my own activity, my own frenzied activity, my own drive anddesire to move. And the other part of me, which feels timeless and very quite and very still.So I think that for me this is where I was trying to get at in the making of these pieces isto somehow make - somehow envision this duality that I sort of feel in my own being.In many ways, it's in a very strange way its kind of a deep self-portrait in that sense,thank you. So this next piece, I'm thinking about time, this next piece, I titled it Cory'syellow chair, Cory is my son and he had from a long time he had a little yellow chair inmy studio. I'm going to just run through this brief. It's a very short sequence. So when Ifirst imagine this piece, I looked at Cory's chair and I saw it explode in my mind and Isaw it exploding up I first actually imagined a piece on a pedestal and I imagined thelifesize chair and I imagined this lifesize chair exploding up and out into 12 pieces andthe only important thing here is that the gesture with which the imagination was that itfelt very clear that the explosion was instantaneous. And the moment that the chairexploded, the pieces removing at infinite speed flying away and somehow with the forceof some sort of gravity, these pieces that flew away from the center point would slowdown and a kind of gravitational force would bring them back to the center, they wouldreach a point of stillness at the far extreme of their period and then begin to coalesce andto condense into forming a chair again, approaching infinite speed the moment that thechair is in existence and its there for just a moment and then its gone.So I can very clearly imagine all of these things in my mind I can imagine, I can see thepieces moving with infinite speed and stopping instantaneously but of course you can'tdo this in the physical world. So when I had the thought to make this piece already Iknew that it was just going to be a very weak step at this idea that all I could do would bedo just suggest what the true feeling was because there will be no way I could really buildit truthfully. And then there was a lot of development I said it started of as animagination with 12 pieces exploding up and out and that gradually worked down to 6pieces and I changed the orientation of the way I was first imagining the machine andultimately came up with that version. Now some of you have seen the actual piece butthat piece that you just saw the chair is only this big, its about 4 inches tall and itsexploding to about 4 feet. And I did make another larger version which is also in amuseum in Germany right now but really the essence for me I found what was drivingthat piece was a question of when is now, like when is now and very often at thebeginning of a Buddha's Dharma talk the teacher will clap his or her hands and thatmoment of the clapping is kind of a signal of the now moment and I think I was reachingfor that in the moment that the chair was coalescing, asking when is now and I wanted thechair to be there for just an instance because the now feels so fleeting, its just gone, itshere and its gone.This next series of pieces came as a result of meeting someone in Boston who is part of amovement theater company and together we created a piece called Shadow of a doubt,which was a play that involved wheel people and large machines on stage in a drama thatthe subject of the drama was a guy who was kind of a tormented inventor like nobody Iknow, a tormented inventor/investigator and anyway just to give you some sense becauseI'm going to show you a machine called the knife throwing machine. But I wanted totalk about the notion of the play which was very much also about thinking about thismoment of now that we had this feeling that if we think about all of the activities of lifeas a kind of mechanism that in which we're a part of and there are so many chanceevents, so many moments that have brought everybody in this room together here in thismoment, now we're sharing this moment.And after the talk is over we're going to disperse and we'll go about our lives and there isa feeling that its kind of like of an hourglass feeling where if you had to think about all ofour lives coming to this point, this shared movement, this common moment and thendispersing. So of course there are infinite number of these moments happening all thetime but we had this feeling that this could be kind of the backbone for this play and Imade a series of large machines that would somehow represent the fabric that was in thebackground. This machine here and I don't have video of it was a very large, its aboutthis tall, I call that the unfolding machine and at one point in the play this machine wouldcome out from stage right and it would move very slowly out and then the arm on topwould very slowly raise up and there was series of gears that were rhythmically pulling itup and the arm would raise up and then the machine began to fall and it went throughabout a 3 or 4 minute slow motion fall in space and I have another image here which isthe machine in its downward, its almost reach the ground.Now on the way right, you see there is a little extension there, is kind of a head there.And when the machine very gracefully came down to the floor, it released a crystal ballthat rolled into the hands of this tormented inventor who was sort of sitting in front of itand that was one focused moment in the play. And the next focused moment was thatthroughout the entire duration of the play this machine which is the letter deliverymachine that started of on stage right at the beginning of the play in the context of theplay you know that the protagonist is to receive a letter from his wife at the stroke ofmidnight and everything is coming down to this moment, this stroke of midnight. So inthe audience you can see the letter on its way because this machine that wheel that's of toyour left that foot would very slowly get pushed out and pulled in and pushed out andevery time you would do that that machine would inch forward very slowly, so we had tochoreograph this play around this machine that was actually moving forward during thewhole production. But you can see it working towards the place in space and time wherethe letter is to be delivered and thatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s the letter way out in front, so you can see you havean anticipation, the letter is reaching that point, we're coming to the point of midnight.And on the other side of the stage, stage left was the knife throwing machine that at thebeginning of the play, it cocked itself and it raised the arm and its holding a verysubstantial piece of metal which is a real throwing knife and its pointed right at that pointwhere the letter is to be delivered. So its all coming down and there is a very strongfeeling that these machines are in cahoots. And that they are really after him or this isfate or somehow basically what happened was there was an intense flurry of activity atthe stroke of midnight. And right at the moment of midnight suddenly there was silenceand he is there and he reaches for the letter, he is in the middle of the stage and hereaches for the letter and the knife is trained right at him just before he grabs the letter itfalls out of the head of a letter delivery machine to the floor, so he has to reach down topick it of the floor and at that point the knife machine it throws the knife over his headinto the wall right behind him. We were very careful because it really did throw thisknife. Now making the knife throwing machine was totally crazy because I never made aknife throwing machine before this, so I just got so like hard in the idea this is going to bereally cool, I got to do this but I'm telling you its like I just imagined what I would haveto do to throw the knife and I made the parts and I'm working down in my basement atthis time and the ceiling is this height and I'll let it go and the knife hits the ceiling andlike flies over the floor, its like oh! My god, this is terrible and of course the productionin which this is going to be in is like set because we've committed to doing the play at afestival in Boston.So a little bit of anxiety there. But it was a wonderful learning journey to figure out tosolve the problem like how am I going to get this machine to throw this knife and I didget it to throw pretty accurately. I mean it would throw that knife 25 feet across the stageand into the wall I think usually it would hit the same exact spot. So okay, usually let mesee, its 8:20. Okay, I'm going to just over it up, there was a lot of --.