Saturday, March 1, 2014

5000 Moving Parts: MIT Museum

by Drew Martin
My 13-year-old son, Calder, and I are on a road trip to Cambridge/Boston, Massachusetts. One of our destinations was the MIT Museum, which we spent almost two hours in this afternoon. The museum is small but definitely worthwhile, and it has a lot of what you would expect at a technological museum: computers and other interactive displays. What really impressed me is the kinetic art show on display until November 2014, called 5000 Moving Parts, which has work by mechanically inclined creators whose machines range from bizarre to profound. One piece, Please Empty Your Pockets, by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is like a kid's interpretation of how a TSA airport scanner should work, only that it is elegantly executed. The device has a lit moving bed onto which you may empty your pockets. The items you place glide under a hood and when you pick them up on the other side of the mysterious light box, their exact scan remains, and continues down/on the bed. The effect is accumulative so that a sole item might end up in a collage of other previously scanned objects. Calder scanned his winter hat, then his shoe. Arthur Ganson's works, a special feature at the museum, are the most mind-boggling. Machine with Oil, cycles a little bucket into a pool of dark oil, and dumps the contents onto itself when it is cranked up to the apex. It seems decadent, like pouring chocolate or syrup over food but then you realize this only makes the metal, geared contraption run better/smoothly. Behold the Big Bang sits long and wide like a lathe, but on closer inspection you see it is an arrangement of gears. On one end the movement is noticeable but seems to not be transferred down the system. The sign on the wall next to it reads, Note: It will take the motor, coupled with the sets of reduction gears, 13.7 billion years (the estimated age of the universe) to complete one rotation of the last gear. We exited through gift shop and got a T-shirt for my son that reads, i have an imaginary friend (square root symbol) -1. After the leaving the museum we walked around the MIT campus, and I brought him to see La Grande Voile (The Great Sail) by his namesake, Alexander Calder. A police SUV was parked right in front of the sculpture. I was trying to take pictures all around it so I asked them to move. The cop in the passenger seat said they were planning on moving in about an hour. I rolled my eyes and walked away. He shouted back at me, "No, I am just messing with you. I had to do it." Then they drove away.