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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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Prototypes of Kinetic Art

Prototypes of Kinetic Art
  • On March 23, 2018
  • http://parkerheyl.tumblr.com

I spent this winter term in the shop space at Here East creating my first kinetic sculptures. I have been experimenting with the animation of material objects as a way to immerse viewers in displays of analog movement. This is a diversion from the most common form of animation seen today: that of the digital image.

The contemporary world has become fixated with depictions of the virtual; photographs, videos, email, Instagram, Twitter, Skype, and texting have all been normalized in our daily lives. Over the next few years, projection, holograms, AR, VR, and other displays will become increasingly present as well. It’s true that the online world grants us enhanced capabilities of communication, access to information, and economic efficiency. What my art calls into question is not the utility of digital technology, but instead what is lost when the virtual slowly replaces the real.

The resurgence of vinyl record sales in an age of music streaming services reflects this cultural anxiety. The idea of object aura was first conceptualized by Walter Benjamin in 1936 as the object’s “presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.”  While every digital audio file is exactly identical, the owner of a record can hold in their hand a unique translation of a musician’s art.

Vinyl records were the inspiration for my first sculpture, a work centered around the mechanism of encoding information to a groove and reading that information with a needle. The record player apparatus has been enlarged 40:1 to allow the viewer to engage with the delicate mechanics of the needle-groove relationship. A set of records which store dance choreography for a puppet were created.  Each corresponds to a musical record, and the puppet’s movements were recorded live to the sound of that music. The movements were then laser-engraved onto a record for replay.

The form of data which is read by this sculpture is distinct from the banks of Internet servers which store and stream our digital music libraries, out of sight and behind closed doors in a location unknown to us. The records make transparent not only the location where data is stored but also the method by which the data is read. This piece demystifies what is lost in the digital codification of previously analog machines.


As a member of the sound cluster within Design for Performance and Interaction, I have been experimenting with the flow of bodies in musical performance spaces. My next project demonstrates how a light show produced by physical objects could be used to create the atmosphere for a live music event. Concert-goers were encouraged to physically engage with the sculpture, making this light show an alternative to the images projected behind an artist or the pre-programmed light shows in a club. Those who attended this event were affected by the sculpture’s object aura in addition to the images it produced.

While my first projects explore analog options, my next one delves into mechanical systems of energy transformation. With the goal of bringing mechanical technology into the concert space, I designed a set of pendulum-based sculptures to be suspended above a crowd’s head during an event. The sculptures are powered by the fingertips of concertgoers as they swipe and play with the pendulum weight.

The very act of transcribing these devices into a video and presenting them through the Internet is antithetical to the effect I hope to achieve. I look forward to presenting my sculptures in physical spaces, such as concerts and events, and engaging with my viewers on a visceral level as a way to restore presence in the technological experience.

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