Reuben Margolin: Sculpting waves in wood and time
March 1, 2012
Reuben Margolin is a kinetic sculptor, crafting beautiful pieces that move in the pattern of raindrops falling and waves combining. Take nine minutes and be mesmerized by his meditative art -- inspired in equal parts by math and nature.
- Kinetic sculptor
Reuben Margolin's moving sculptures combine the logic of math with the sensuousness of nature. Full bio
Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Usually I like working in my shop,
but when it's raining and the driveway outside turns into a river,
then I just love it.
And I'll cut some wood and drill some holes and watch the water,
and maybe I'll have to walk around and look for washers.
You have no idea how much time I spend.
This is the "Double Raindrop."
Of all my sculptures, it's the most talkative.
It adds together the interference pattern
from two raindrops that land near each other.
Instead of expanding circles, they're expanding hexagons.
All the sculptures move by mechanical means.
Do you see how there's three peaks to the yellow sine wave?
Right here I'm adding a sine wave with four peaks and turning it on.
Eight hundred two-liter soda bottles --
Four hundred aluminum cans.
Tule is a reed that's native to California,
and the best thing about working with it is that it smells just delicious.
A single drop of rain
The spiral eddy that trails a paddle on a rafting trip.
This adds together four different waves.
And here I'm going to pull out the double wavelengths
and increase the single.
The mechanism that drives it has nine motors
and about 3,000 pulleys.
Four hundred and forty-five strings in a three-dimensional weave.
Transferred to a larger scale --
actually a lot larger, with a lot of help --
14,064 bicycle reflectors --
a 20-day install.
"Connected" is a collaboration
with choreographer Gideon Obarzanek.
Strings attached to dancers.
This is very early rehearsal footage,
but the finished work's on tour
and is actually coming through L.A. in a couple weeks.
A pair of helices and 40 wooden slats.
Take your finger and draw this line.
Summer, fall, winter, spring,
noon, dusk, dark, dawn.
Have you ever seen those stratus clouds
that go in parallel stripes across the sky?
Did you know that's a continuous sheet of cloud
that's dipping in and out of the condensation layer?
What if every seemingly isolated object
was actually just where the continuous wave of that object
poked through into our world?
The Earth is neither flat nor round.
It sounds good, but I'll bet you know in your gut that it's not the whole truth,
and I'll tell you why.
I have a two-year-old daughter who's the best thing ever.
And I'm just going to come out and say it:
My daughter is not a wave.
And you might say, "Surely, Rueben, if you took even just the slightest step back,
the cycles of hunger and eating,
waking and sleeping, laughing and crying
would emerge as pattern."
But I would say, "If I did that,
too much would be lost."
This tension between the need to look deeper
and the beauty and immediacy of the world,
where if you even try to look deeper you've already missed what you're looking for,
this tension is what makes the sculptures move.
And for me, the path between these two extremes
takes the shape of a wave.
Let me show you one more.
Thank you very much. Thanks.
June Cohen: Looking at each of your sculptures,
they evoke so many different images.
Some of them are like the wind and some are like waves,
and sometimes they look alive and sometimes they seem like math.
Is there an actual inspiration behind each one?
Are you thinking of something physical or somthing tangible as you design it?
RM: Well some of them definitely have a direct observation --
like literally two raindrops falling,
and just watching that pattern is so stunning.
And then just trying to figure out how to make that using stuff.
I like working with my hands.
There's nothing better than cutting a piece of wood
and trying to make it move.
JC: And does it ever change?
Do you think you're designing one thing,
and then when it's produced it looks like something else?
RM: The "Double Raindrop" I worked on for nine months,
and when I finally turned it on,
I actually hated it.
The very moment I turned it on, I hated it.
It was like a really deep-down gut reaction, and I wanted to throw it out.
And I happened to have a friend who was over,
and he said, "Why don't you just wait."
And I waited, and the next day I liked it a bit better,
the next day I liked it a bit better, and now I really love it.
And so I guess, one, the gut reactions a little bit wrong sometimes,
and two, it does not look like as expected.
JC: The relationship evolves over time.
Well thank you so much. That was a gorgeous treat for us.
RM: Thanks. (JC: Thank you, Reuben.)
- Kinetic sculptor
Reuben Margolin's moving sculptures combine the logic of math with the sensuousness of nature.Why you should listen
Reuben Margolin makes wave-like sculptures that undulate, spiral, bob and dip in gloriously natural-seeming ways, driven by arrays of cogs and gears. As a kid, Margolin was into math and physics; at college, he switched to liberal arts and ended up studying painting in Italy and Russia. Inspired by the movement of a little green caterpillar, he began trying to capture movements of nature in sculptural form. Now, at his studio in Emeryville, California, he makes large-scale undulating installations of wood and recycled stuff. He also makes pedal-powered rickshaws and has collaborated on several large-scale pedal-powered vehicles.
The original video is available on TED.com