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Kinetic Sculpture Exhibit Opens at Device Gallery

Greg Brotherton with <em>Pushed Around.</em>

Photo by Angela Carone

Above: Greg Brotherton with Pushed Around.


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We often think of art as something that hangs very still on a gallery wall. But there are artists who want their art to move. An exhibit of kinetic sculpture recently opened at Device Gallery in Barrio Logan and I went to check it out.

When you walk into most galleries, there's a hushed silence. Not the case when you enter a gallery featuring kinetic sculpture. Kinetic sculpture moves. It hums and whirs. It sometimes lights up. Often a piece is motorized, other times it relies on wind for movement.

Kinetic sculpture has a long tradition, going back to Marcel Duchamp's "Bicycle Wheel", and later Alexander Calder's mobiles. And at Device Gallery in Barrio Logan, there's Greg Brotherton's Electrolux Death Ray gun, which even has its own infomercial.

Brotherton stands in front of a long, metal, futuristic looking gun. The side of the gun barrel reads Electrolux, in sleek vintage lettering. That's because it's made out of a 50's era Electrolux vacuum cleaner. When you turn it on, the vacuum pressure flows through whistles Brotherton installed inside the gun. He turns the gun on and it makes an alarmingly loud sound. Brotherton laughingly insists it shoots a real death ray.

Brotherton often uses appliances from the 50's because he likes the era's space-age designs. He believes the industrial designers of the time really wanted to be making something other than vacuum cleaners and blenders. "It's kind of like they were walking the line of is this a space gun, no it's a blender. And I'm sure there's an elderly designer somewhere that's like, that's what I wanted to make." Brotherton also likes to use older appliances because their motors are easier to take out for use in his own work.

Nemo Gould is also a kinetic sculptor. Like Brotherton, he prefers older goods with motorized parts for source material. Gould says, "Prior to the microchip, the moving part still ruled, you could get inside something and newer consumer goods are all sealed up in plastic and there's nothing much going on in there."

One of Gould's pieces at Device Gallery is called The Giant Squid. It's a mechanical squid that is 11 feet long and 7 feet tall. It's made out of metal candlesticks and street lamps, and has long tentacles that wave gently in the air. Gould explains, "My idea was to try and get a thing that looked as though it were swimming, so there was a lot of experimenting in order to get this thing to not be a herky-jerky robot."

Gould says he burned up a couple of motors trying to get the movement just right. This experimentation is typical of Brotherton and Gould's art making. They also spend hours searching for parts on Ebay, in junk yards, and in cars. Gould says, "Lots of little motors are turning up in car seats and windows more than ever before. The more creature comforts that are added to those things the more potential robot parts there are to be found."

Some of the other pieces at Device are more abstract than robots and squids, but they all have moving parts. These artists share a fascination with old machinery. They adopt that aesthetic but then want their work to function like a machine. They want it to move.

The art at Device Gallery also attracts a new breed of collector. They are younger and tend to work in the entertainment and tech industries. Gould says they appreciate the craftsmanship, and often share the same pop culture interests. He explains, "My work sort of speaks to the grownup nerd who's already got all his in the box, unopened "Star Wars" figures."

These collectors often make their purchases online, without ever seeing the piece in person. In fact, Greg Brotherton just sold a sculpture to a collector in New York. The collector saw it online and then sent the gallery $25,000 for the purchase.

For KPBS radio, I'm Angela Carone

The show is called "It Moved" and will be on display at Device Gallery in Barrio Logan through June 20th.


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