Monday, May 4, 2015

ARTS 308 - Kinetic Sculpture Post-Mortem

Last Thursday I gave my presentation for Topple, my kinetic sculpture and final project for ARTS 308. I feel that the presentation was a success and that general audience reaction was positive.

Finished Construction

The final touches to the sculpture were completed on-schedule; some adjustments were necessary to make the wind-up/release mechanism smoother and I also added spacers to the base of the sculpture.

Above is a close-up of the winding mechanism. While I had the option of creating a metal pulley system, I chose to make it wood to stay on-theme with the rest of the sculpture.

The locking for the mechanism is rudimentary yet effective; you simply stop the wind-up hook with the block and remove the block to release the mechanism. Again, this component is on-theme with the rest of the sculpture and I was satisfied with that despite its crudeness.


Topple is a kinetic sculpture that experiments with the natural force of gravity and the possibility of both constructive and destructive movement. It was inspired by childhood play activities which are inclusive of both creation and destruction. I started with the desire to portray de-constructive motion and built off of the idea of children being just as excited to destroy structures made from toy blocks as they were to create them.

The motion of Topple is achieved by using a winding mechanism to "build" a tower of toy blocks, and releasing the mechanism to make the tower fall down. Due to the connected structure of the blocks, the process of building and destroying the tower can be repeated again and again.

The experimental kinetic element is derived from the falling motion of the "tower"; the blocks never topple over each other in the same way twice.

Nostalgia for childhood play experience is a major theme of Topple. As a small child, I played with wooden toys. The main structure of the sculpture is wooden, as well as the winding mechanism. I wanted every detail of the sculpture to support this overall theme of nostalgia. The blocks themselves were hand-cut, sanded, and hand-painted by me. The color scheme of the blocks incorporates the three Primary Colors - a direct reference to early childhood. The process of building Topple was a singular experience for me because I had never built anything like the old wooden toys of my childhood as an adult. I feel like the experience of playing with wooden toys is going extinct; indeed, I see more small children playing with electronic hand-held media more than anything else.

Hopefully Topple will evoke the memories of innocent childhood play in viewers and will prove an edifying and interesting interactive experience.

As Topple is interactive and hand-powered, the best place to exhibit it could be any public space (hopefully sheltered from weathering).


Reaction to Topple seemed positive; the mechanism for winding/letting fall the "tower" of blocks was easy enough for viewers to manipulate themselves.

Many viewers commented on its resemblance to early childhood toys. They also commented on the nostalgic design.

Final Thoughts

If I could redo this project I would have spent more time perfecting the structure of the block "tower". I would have experimented with more interesting structures for the "tower" and engineered structures that held up better.

The twine used to make the "tower" is appealing but it won't last forever. Eventually it will wear out and snap. There was also an issue of the twine stretching after winding the "tower" up. The winding mechanism itself is very simple and I might have spent a little more time perfecting its design, although in its current state it certainly gets the job done.

Topple was the first time I've built something resembling the wooden toys of my childhood; I enjoyed working with my hands to achieve a sturdy structure that could house the main action of the sculpture. I was very pleased with my work painting the toy blocks. In some ways I felt like an old-time toy maker.