Over a thousand suspended bronze globules, moving in a seamless, synchronous fashion to form abstract shapes mid-air, mesmerise all who cast their gaze upon it. So, too, does a wall with row after row of tiny black-and-white clocks, their hands elegantly manipulated to form a monochromatic design. Clusters of petal-shaped motifs hang from the ceiling, dancing harmoniously to a bespoke classical arrangement.
While kinetic art might not be as recognisable as the pop culture icons of Jeff Koons, most would have encountered the aforementioned works in motion at Changi Airport Singapore.
Kinetic art, in essence, simply refers to art that moves or depends on kinesis for effect. The movement began in the 19th century with impressionistic artists the likes of Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet, who experimented with portraying movement through their paintings. This would later become part of a larger art form, which received its moniker later in the early 20th century, as artists began moving beyond their predecessors – who worked largely on flat canvases – to try out more dynamic forms of motion.
What started out as simpler designs like American sculptor Alexander Calder’s Mobiles, moved quickly to Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely’s Metamechanics, and eventually evolved into Dutch artist Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests.
In recent years, science and technology have been embedded irreversibly into the lives of humans, revolutionising almost every aspect of our day-to-day lives, including the very way we express ourselves: art.
In Singapore, kinetic art has loomed large in recent years, the latest edition being the Kinetic Wall at the newly renovated Funan Mall. The impressive piece stands 13m high and 9m wide, and features 1,271 motorised light blades that can be controlled to display the date and time, as well as festive greetings during holiday seasons. If that isn’t enough to draw the eyeballs (and smartphone cameras) of patrons at Funan, the wall also has thermographic and infrared sensors hidden within, allowing it to respond to movement within the vicinity.
Back in 2012, Changi Airport Singapore added yet another feather in its cap of accolades by installing Kinetic Rain, one of the world’s largest kinetic sculptures at the time. Designed by Berlin-based studio Art+com, the installation based in Terminal 1 was conceived over a period of 20 months, and was inspired by Singapore’s tropical climate and high year-round rainfall. The end result is a sculpture consisting of 1,216 copper-plated aluminium droplets, with each 180g droplet governed by a single motor.
Art+com was also responsible for Changi Airport Terminal 4’s Petalclouds – a mammoth piece designed after the orchid flower, hanging across the central galleria that connects the terminal’s departure, transit and arrival halls. This majestic yet graceful behemoth covers 200m of ceiling space, with six clouds fashioned from 96 petal-shaped aluminium pieces. Each cloud is suspended from 64 steel cables and powered by 32 motors concealed in the ceiling. Beyond that, a vast network of software and hardware, including over 3,000 pages of computer codes, controllers, gearboxes and sensors, labours to provide an illusion of shape-shifting clouds.
Over at Terminal 2, A Million Times is a kinetic sculpture that consists of 504 interconnected clocks and 1,008 motors – one for each clock hand. The designers at Swedish studio, Humans Since 1982, took 18 months to choreograph the installation’s movement, which is accompanied by sound effects and light projections. The artwork’s complexity also called for a single-board computer for each clock, made to allow the clocks to communicate to one another over a network, as well as a visual-tracking system that monitors the position of all 1,008 hands around the clock.
At the end of the day, it goes without saying that kinetic art is still art, albeit, in Singapore’s case, art that is intrinsically fused with a dash of technology.
Jussi Angesleva, vice-creative director of Art+com, and lead designer in both the Kinetic Rain and Petalclouds projects, reflects that the two are inseparable in the expressive intention of an art piece. He says: “In the end… ‘cutting edge’, ‘innovative’ and ‘high-tech’ are descriptors of a forward-looking and future-oriented vision.”
Written by Nicholas Koo for The Peak.