Made On Earth — Wind-Up Whimsy

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Made On Earth — Wind-Up Whimsy


Gina Kamentsky’s Mechanical Confections are one-of-a-kind kinetic sculptures ranging from wind-up toys to comical automata, lamps, and motorized pieces. “Humor is really important,” she says. “I love old comics and animation from the 30s.”

Kamentsky started making art with found objects more than 20 years ago. Walking around her neighborhood in industrial South Boston, she’d pick up pieces from abandoned vehicles and take them home to make small, toy-like objects.

Growing up, Kamentsky’s scientist-inventor father was a big influence. “A typical weekend project would be commandeering a toy, taking it apart, and supercharging it in some way. Our model train set was voice controlled; we had a model plane which flew around the room dropping bombs.”

After studying industrial design and film animation at Philadelphia College of Art (now the College of Art and Design), she went to work for Fisher-Price. She couldn’t believe she got paid to design toys — it was like a wonderful sort of grad school, as she learned how to work in plastic and develop mechanical prototypes. “When I started in the 80s, we were still using Ozen units to put sound in a toy,” she explains. “You would pull a string, which powered a spring-wound motor driving a miniature record inside the box!”

After branching out on her own as a freelance toy designer, she got into sculpture. She starts with an idea about motion and progress, then finds objects and forms that fit. She scours flea markets, yard sales, thrift stores, and eBay for raw materials, and scavenges old toys, computers, and video games. Her life’s work will be on display until November at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Mass.

Today, Kamentsky splits her artistic time between sculpture and animation, and teaches interactive information design at Northeastern University. Lately she’s interested in combining these favorite pastimes by exploring kinetic interfaces for operating the menus on cheap DVD players, and tinkering with Arduino open source electronics. Along with a smattering of humor, of course.

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