08:59
TED2012

Reuben Margolin: Sculpting waves in wood and time

Filmed:

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

Usually I like working in my shop,
00:15
but when it's raining and the driveway outside turns into a river,
00:18
then I just love it.
00:22
And I'll cut some wood and drill some holes and watch the water,
00:24
and maybe I'll have to walk around and look for washers.
00:28
You have no idea how much time I spend.
00:31
This is the "Double Raindrop."
00:34
Of all my sculptures, it's the most talkative.
00:36
It adds together the interference pattern
00:44
from two raindrops that land near each other.
00:47
Instead of expanding circles, they're expanding hexagons.
00:50
All the sculptures move by mechanical means.
01:00
Do you see how there's three peaks to the yellow sine wave?
01:10
Right here I'm adding a sine wave with four peaks and turning it on.
01:15
Eight hundred two-liter soda bottles --
01:36
oh yea.
01:40
(Laughter)
01:41
Four hundred aluminum cans.
01:54
Tule is a reed that's native to California,
02:00
and the best thing about working with it is that it smells just delicious.
02:03
A single drop of rain
02:21
increasing amplitude.
02:24
The spiral eddy that trails a paddle on a rafting trip.
02:48
This adds together four different waves.
03:04
And here I'm going to pull out the double wavelengths
03:07
and increase the single.
03:09
The mechanism that drives it has nine motors
03:13
and about 3,000 pulleys.
03:16
Four hundred and forty-five strings in a three-dimensional weave.
03:28
Transferred to a larger scale --
03:33
actually a lot larger, with a lot of help --
03:35
14,064 bicycle reflectors --
03:38
a 20-day install.
03:42
"Connected" is a collaboration
04:05
with choreographer Gideon Obarzanek.
04:07
Strings attached to dancers.
04:11
This is very early rehearsal footage,
04:14
but the finished work's on tour
04:16
and is actually coming through L.A. in a couple weeks.
04:19
A pair of helices and 40 wooden slats.
04:28
Take your finger and draw this line.
04:53
Summer, fall, winter, spring,
04:56
noon, dusk, dark, dawn.
05:00
Have you ever seen those stratus clouds
05:07
that go in parallel stripes across the sky?
05:10
Did you know that's a continuous sheet of cloud
05:13
that's dipping in and out of the condensation layer?
05:15
What if every seemingly isolated object
05:19
was actually just where the continuous wave of that object
05:22
poked through into our world?
05:25
The Earth is neither flat nor round.
05:29
It's wavy.
05:33
It sounds good, but I'll bet you know in your gut that it's not the whole truth,
05:38
and I'll tell you why.
05:43
I have a two-year-old daughter who's the best thing ever.
05:45
And I'm just going to come out and say it:
05:47
My daughter is not a wave.
05:49
And you might say, "Surely, Rueben, if you took even just the slightest step back,
05:52
the cycles of hunger and eating,
05:57
waking and sleeping, laughing and crying
06:00
would emerge as pattern."
06:03
But I would say, "If I did that,
06:05
too much would be lost."
06:08
This tension between the need to look deeper
06:11
and the beauty and immediacy of the world,
06:16
where if you even try to look deeper you've already missed what you're looking for,
06:19
this tension is what makes the sculptures move.
06:23
And for me, the path between these two extremes
06:26
takes the shape of a wave.
06:28
Let me show you one more.
06:31
Thank you very much. Thanks.
07:16
(Applause)
07:19
Thanks.
07:21
(Applause)
07:22
June Cohen: Looking at each of your sculptures,
07:27
they evoke so many different images.
07:29
Some of them are like the wind and some are like waves,
07:31
and sometimes they look alive and sometimes they seem like math.
07:34
Is there an actual inspiration behind each one?
07:36
Are you thinking of something physical or somthing tangible as you design it?
07:39
RM: Well some of them definitely have a direct observation --
07:42
like literally two raindrops falling,
07:46
and just watching that pattern is so stunning.
07:48
And then just trying to figure out how to make that using stuff.
07:51
I like working with my hands.
07:57
There's nothing better than cutting a piece of wood
08:00
and trying to make it move.
08:02
JC: And does it ever change?
08:04
Do you think you're designing one thing,
08:05
and then when it's produced it looks like something else?
08:06
RM: The "Double Raindrop" I worked on for nine months,
08:08
and when I finally turned it on,
08:12
I actually hated it.
08:14
The very moment I turned it on, I hated it.
08:18
It was like a really deep-down gut reaction, and I wanted to throw it out.
08:22
And I happened to have a friend who was over,
08:25
and he said, "Why don't you just wait."
08:27
And I waited, and the next day I liked it a bit better,
08:29
the next day I liked it a bit better, and now I really love it.
08:34
And so I guess, one, the gut reactions a little bit wrong sometimes,
08:37
and two, it does not look like as expected.
08:41
JC: The relationship evolves over time.
08:44
Well thank you so much. That was a gorgeous treat for us.
08:46
RM: Thanks. (JC: Thank you, Reuben.)
08:47
(Applause)
08:50
Translated by Timothy Covell
Reviewed by Morton Bast

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About the Speaker:

Reuben Margolin - 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.
More profile about the speaker
Reuben Margolin | Speaker | TED.com