Objects of impossible weight, like airplanes, are able to fly through the use of motion. A “kinetic sculpture” by the Brazilian artist Paulo Nenflidio, manages to bring a whale aloft in the air, much like it occupies the water. Made entirely of brass welded with tin, through the magic of technology, an object of impossible weight again floats. According to the artist, “the caudal and pectoral fins [of the whale] resemble wings of an aircraft. The whole work resembles an aerial or underwater vessel”.
“Kinetic” is defined as “the work needed to accelerate the body of a given mass from rest to its stated velocity.” Nenflidio’s Whale, created especially for Art Basel Statements, is about six meters long and suspended in the air. An aluminum trellis supports the work, which is hung by steel cables, and a light touch from a visitor sets the Whale in motion. The friction of the moving pieces also produces a sound such as that which a whale might produce underwater.
Nenflidio is considered first and foremost a sound artist, often working at the cross-section of electronics and nature. Past works, like Octopus (2010), take organic “forms” and uses them as a basis for constructing machines that produce sounds that are unique but resemble those that occur in nature. A consistent theme as well in Nenflidio’s use of mechanics is the avoidance of the use of direct electricity; things are set in motion or powered by solar power or inertia from the touch of a human hand. In reference to Whale, Nenflidio said:
“As it is a sculpture based on the animal-symbol of environmental preservation, I chose not to use any type of electricity in the generation of motion. The energy that does make the work move is the light touch of the hands of the public when they interact with it.”
Since the time of Da Vinci’s bird-imitating flying machines and long before, humans have been putting models found in nature and the animal world to work, copying and tweaking them with ever-evolving technology. Forms that are processed and produced to have a utility are considered engineering, while those things that only produce what we might call “beauty” are considered “art.”
When engineering technology developed for the ends of utility is put to work for the purposes of beauty, however, the results can be particularly breathtaking. It makes one wonder at the miracle perhaps of a real octopus or whale, who took no technology or agent whatsoever to come into being. The productions of the mimicking work of human hands, while lovely, can stand as only pale imitations of—or perhaps as idols to—the miracle of nature.
- Mara Goldwyn
(Images: Paulo Nenflidio, Baleia (projeto), 2011, Designs for installation at Art Basel 2011, Art Statements, Mixed media. Courtesy of the artist)