Gould’s Praying Mantis kinetic sculpture. [Image by Siblia Savage.]
Founded in 2007, “Applied Kinetic Arts (A.K.A.) is a community of artists working within the medium loosely defined as ‘kinetic’. Works incorporating motion, light, sound, and interactivity are represented by the group’s ever expanding member base.” The A.K.A. collective has made mesmerizing displays at Maker Faire Bay Area for years now. With this month’s theme being Physical Science and Mechanics, it’s the perfect time to chat with the multi-talented members of A.K.A, and get insight into kinetic arts. Today, we speak with Nemo Gould, one of A.K.A.’s co-founders. Gould’s sculptures are magical, transporting the viewer into an alternate, ever-moving reality, made from salvaged materials.
1. Tell us about yourself. How did you get started making things and who are your inspirations?
I’ve always had a thing for collecting junk and taking it apart. That, and I’ve always loved old science fiction movies and comics. I suppose my earliest influences were animator Ray Harryhausen, sculptor Clayton Bailey, and comic artist Winsor McCay (creator of LIttle Nemo in Slumberland, my namesake).
Acoustapus was made from an acoustic guitar, rocking chair parts, chair arms, salad bowl, beads, light fixtures, brass screws, and aluminum.
2. How did you first become involved/interested in making kinetic art? Tell us about the first kinetic piece you made.
I mentioned that I’m a fan of science fiction movies, but in particular, I’m really drawn to stop-motion animation. I thought I would be an animator until I learned how tedious it was. Eventually I came to the conclusion that the challenges of making things move on their own was actually easier for me to overcome than the patience required to make things appear to move on film. I suppose that would make my first kinetic art piece an incredibly short clay animation experiment I did when I was about 10 years old. It took another seven or eight years for me to start experimenting with actual mechanical movement.
3. What goes into building one of your pieces? What’s your process?
I spend a great deal of time salvaging for material. I am always on the hunt, and never for anything in particular. Because of this habit, I have a pretty serious treasure trove of things. A new sculpture usually starts somewhere in the process of taking these things apart or cleaning them. Once I’ve “processed” this material I can see it for its parts and potential. From there I can see how it might relate with some of the other things in my collection, and then we’re off. It’s a lot like working a jigsaw puzzle.
4. What’s the biggest challenge in making art that is kinetic?
Not long ago I would have said the challenge is in making something that will run smoothly and for a long time. Now I’m of the opinion that user interface is the biggest challenge. By the time I’ve finished a piece I know it pretty well: its strengths, weaknesses, how to handle it, etc. Making things that are interactive requires you to see your own work from a stranger’s perspective, so there need to be cues for the viewer to know what to do and obstacles to keep them from inadvertently abusing the work. It turns out that this is much more complicated than simply making something go.
Video of Gould’s Nowhere Fast sculpture in action.
5. What’s your favorite tool/material?
My materials choices are always changing from metals to wood to whatever I’ve got laying around, but if I had to pick a favorite tool it would probably be my metal lathe.
6. How has being a part of a collective like Applied Kinetic Arts helped you and/or informed your work?
A.K.A. started out as a way to share the burden of exhibiting at large venues, but it has really evolved into something much more meaningful. What we’ve done is recognized that we all work in different ways but we all share a definite common thread. By focusing on the things we have in common it becomes clear that we are all part of something bigger than our individual studios. We have a contemporary art movement on our hands, and by banding together we strengthen our case with the public and the art world at large.
Gould’s Little Big Man sculpture.
7. Is your art strictly a hobby or is it a business? Does it relate to your day job?
I am a full-time artist. It is a hobby, a business, and often a day job too.
8. What new idea (in or outside of your field) has excited you most recently?
It’s not really new, but I’ve found myself studying the set design and interior spaces in movies. I’ve typically focused on the characters for inspiration but now I’m seeing the same material from a perspective of lighting and space. It sounds like a small distinction, but its causing me to see the materials in my shop in a very different way.
9. What is your motto?
Take silly seriously.
10. What advice do you have for people who want to get started in the kinetic arts?
Take machines apart. I can’t think of a better way to learn how to make them.
Thanks, Nemo! Check out nemomatic.com for tons more pictures and videos of Nemo Gould’s kinetic sculptures.