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AP1 - kinetic art and the use of motors

Kinetic art is art that depends on motion for its effects (Tate, 2022). The word kinetic means relating to motion. Since the early twentieth century artists have been incorporating movement into art. This has been partly to explore the possibilities of movement, partly to introduce the element of time, partly to reflect the importance of the machine and technology in the modern world and partly to explore the nature of vision. Movement has either been produced mechanically by motors, as in kinetic art pioneer Naum Gabo’s Standing Wave of 1919–20; or by exploiting the natural movement of air in a space – referred to as mobiles. Alexander Calder began to create mobiles from around 1930.

Rebecca Horn

Ballet of the Woodpeckers, Glass, metal, transformers, motors and egg, 1986

Many of Horn’s works reference or mimic animals. Here small hammers tap mirrors like birds startled by their own reflection. It was originally installed in a psychiatric hospital in Vienna. Long-term patients experienced it alongside external visitors. To recall the presence of the patients when the work was moved, Horn added two glass funnels filled with mercury. The liquid metal shivered in response to the vibrations of footsteps. Mercury is highly toxic and was later replaced by reflective foil for safety reasons.

Spatial quality of sound, a connection to rhythm and motion. An act of intervention, the motorised hammer disrupts the surface of the glass. Very conceptual, title further explores the conceptual nature and physiological reading of the work. Interesting how something modern, machine and electronic is used to replicate the natural sound of birdsong.

The motors all hammer the glass at timed intervals and creates a very eerie audible atmosphere. The work remains a piece of installation art, however the use of motors allows the piece to border into that of sound and kinetic art without specifically being about sound.

The sound is also very subtle, from the hum and electrical buzz of the motors to the heavier beat of the metal hammers. The hammers also hit with varying amounts of force, allowing for a more playful layering of subtly changing sounds and movement, from barely audible touches to vibrating impacts.

"the sonic dimension can ‘temporalise’ the space of the installation by adding duration.*** In doing so, the effect is to bring the participant into the spectacle."

The use of mirrors allow the audience to become a part of the work and also investigates the idea of bodies extending in space which is a common aspect within her work. Water held in cones on the floor also vibrate due to the footfall of passing visitors, adding another layer of interaction, allowing viewers to be an active part of the artwork. As in many kinetic artworks, the hammers motion and developing sound also adds a timeliness to the piece, adding to a sense of duration.


«Using simple and functional components, Zimoun builds architecturally-minded platforms of sound. Exploring mechanical rhythm and flow in prepared systems, his installations incorporate commonplace industrial objects. In an obsessive display of simple and functional materials, these works articulate a tension between the orderly patterns of Modernism and the chaotic forces of life. Carrying an emotional depth, the acoustic hum of natural phenomena in Zimoun's minimalist constructions effortlessly reverberates.» Laura Blereau


Private Collection, 2013

  • site-specific, immersive

  • mechanical principles of rotation and oscillation

  • use of everyday materials

  • simple mechanisms

  • groups large amounts of small motors to create kind of orchestra

  • sophisticated layering of sound - auditory experience

  • oppositional positions

  • order and chaos

  • clinical study of sound and materials

The titles of his work are consistently solely lists of materials, allowing these to be emphasised and made more significant. His work also connects with principles of prepared instruments which John Cage pioneered in the 1940's. There are also references to avant-garde and minimal music through the sounds which are produced by his sculptural and installation work. It is interesting how the artists uses the architectural space to his advantage, such as in the placement of his sculptures, considered the height and space between each to fully explore the aural qualities. This is definitely a lot of decision making I also need to explore in my own investigation into sound sculpture.


Zimoun, 1 prepared dc-motor, wire, cork ball, brass cup, 2022

Other examples of his work are more sculptural than installation, paired back and only including on isolated process. There is a very direct play with material and an emphasis on the action to create a particular sound, in this case the action of a cork ball chiming off a brass cup. The works are very minimal, clean and sophisticated in appearance, staged almost scientifically like they are some apparatus or significant process performing a task. Unlike Rie Nakajima's work they appear more functional and less playful in terms of colour, material and the aesthetic. Another interesting aspect that differs from Nakajima is how the power supply is hidden from the piece, allowing the function to be more ambiguous, allowing the viewer to question how the piece functions. The piece is to concerned with any kind of political message and solely interested in an exploration of the material quality of sound and how it exists in space. I find this approach very much connected to my own way of thinking about art production - with my own work similarly being interested in process and material play.

Rie Nakajima

Rie Nakajima is a a sculptor living in London. She has been working on creating installations and performances by responding to physical characters of spaces using combination of motorised devices and found objects. Fusing sculpture and sound, her artistic practice is open to chance and the influence of others, raising important questions about the definition of art.

In a similar way I am interested in ways of combining sound with sculpture - it is a very radical way of activating sculpture - making it less static and heavy and breaks away from the constraints of historical sculpture, allowing it to be more contemporary.

It also allows the sculptures to be multisensory and kinetic - providing a sense of intrigue, unpredictability, tension and ambiguity.


2018, Solo Exhibition, IKON Gallery, Birmingham

tinfoil, motors, concrete, metal, whistles, plastic, cans, buckets, plastic bags, tubes, batteries, brushes, tape, seeds, timer, wire, sponges, stones

‘What I am making is to be experienced through your body, through your perception and through your sense’ - Rie Nakajima

Use of everyday objects are transformed - very inventive process - gives a sense of liveliness to inanimate objects. It is a notable choice that all of the working, wires, batteries and motors of the pieces are fully exposed - allowing the viewer to understand where the movement is being generated from. However, this still keeps the pieces remaining very ambiguous and unusual and may ask what the point of these actions are. Do they have a purpose? Are they functional? Or is there only function to explore the acoustic qualities of sound and their relationship to specific architectural spaces.

Rie Nakajima, Cyclic, 2018.

There is something also inherently playful and childlike with these installations, such as an overturned bucket that is turned into a drum. Many of the pieces use a combination of found objects and wooden supports, however, others seem entirely fabricated and more traditionally sculptural, taking on organic forms like conical shapes mixed in with cast replications of cans. Each piece produces a very different sound, with the artists fully exploiting the auditory qualities of materials such as the tinny sounds of metal to that of a ceramic cup. There is an interesting layering of noise which is also created, with each piece having its own unique rhythm which fills the whole room with a certain uneasy soundscape. This combination of colour, material, sound and well thought out display is very interesting and something I would need to consider within my own work. How would my own work interact with the space in which it sits?

Jacob Carter, motorised sculpture, 2022

Whilst making this sculpture and realising the importance of sound I took inspiration from LaBell’s Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art and Licht’s Sound Art, which discus the importance of acoustic space and the rhythms of chaos. I have begun thinking more critically around sound with the space that it occupies and how sound may be used as a sculptural devices which can create a dialogue with different materials and spaces as LaBelle (2006) states ‘sound’s relational condition can be traced through modes of spatiality, for sound and space have a dynamic relationship’.

It is interesting to see in my own work how I have made an active decision to conceal some aspects of the mechanism such as the battery pack as I deem this to be quite an ugly and distracting form. However, it also allows the work to be less easy to understand, as the source of the motion remains hidden, and as such conceals the process and the artists intervention. I have still included the wires though, as I feel this adds a certain technical and scientific aesthetic which provides an interesting juxtaposition to the very historically loaded form of concrete terrazzo.


LaBelle, B., 2006. Background noise. 1st ed. London: Continuum. 2022. Rie Nakajima_Cyclic. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 3 May 2022].

Spicer, E., 2022. Rie Nakajima: ‘What I am making is to be experienced through your body, through your perception and through your sense’. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 3 May 2022]. 2022. Zimoun. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 3 May 2022].

Tate. 2022. Rebecca Horn Ballet of the Woodpeckers. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 3 May 2022].


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