I’ve been to see a lot of serious exhibitions recently, the kind that attract the intelligentsia and the cultured public. Some left me awe-struck whilst others made me wonder where art is headed if assemblages of painted dolls and ladders are considered to be fine examples of contemporary art. A good show will always have an effect – good or bad - but once in a while you experience the elusive ‘wow’ factor. The kind of art you point others in the direction of in order to share the joy.
The Kinetica Art Fair was one of these; a two-storey gathering of artist/engineers who use their technical expertise and vivid imaginations to create works of art. Now in its fourth year, the Kinetica Art Fair’s starting point is organisers the Kinetica Museum, independent practitioners who seek to bring the newest pieces of electronic, kinetic and technological art together in one place for the public to view. Some of these – like a condenser of liquid from the air to collect moisture in the desert – serve a higher purpose, using technology to make a serious statement. The highlight of this group was Trope Troupe’s Departures 4.01, an airport departures board listing out the penalties for homosexuality in different cities around the world, a simple but hard-hitting way of conveying information in a familiar medium. They were also makers of a suicide machine – in which viewers were invited to place their wrists for slashing.
Courtesy Daniel Poole Gallery.
The majority of pieces, however, exist for the sheer enjoyment of having created a little piece of genius that engages and entertains the viewer. Two Kinetica Museum pieces by Pascal Bettex did this particularly well. Comprising moving sculptures using found materials -- from rusty kitchen equipment to scrap metal -- mechanised to animate objects that would otherwise serve no purpose, to bring life where there previously was none. Other than their kinetic quality, part of the beauty of these contraptions was that they weren’t instructive or pedagogical, more Caractacus Potts than Tracey Emin as it were, created for the joy of invention. Others used technologies to create a synthesis between product design and conceptual art. For instance, Midnight Collective’s highly original combination of a fish tank and light sculpture -- where the latter lit up to mirror the patterns created by the swimming fish in a separate, but identically shaped structure. Then there was Tim Lewis’ mechanical emu, with a gloved hand for a head, fusing nature and engineering in a truly novel way.
The overall highlight was a collection of contraptions by WuXiaoFei Dyson, a young Chinese man living in Yorkshire. His work uses less sophisticated materials than other exhibitors but was infinitely more endearing in that he creates gadgets to allow the user to enjoy everyday processes that bit more. For instance, one mechanism of wire, crocodile clips and cogs focuses on the dunking of a biscuit in tea and allows the user to experiment with the disintegration of different types of biscuit (the denser hobnob being the obvious winner). Another piece follows the movement of a marble through an obstacle course set up across adjoining walls, created to distract his young brothers from their PlayStation games. Herein lies the beauty of a show like this. It’s using technology in unusual ways and innovative ways, but it’s also about developing technology in ways that aren’t just practical. And best of all it reminds us of the childish joy of discovering a zany new invention, and figuring out how it works.
(Image on top: Pascal Bettex, Courtesy the artist and Kinetica Art Fair)