Filming in the Crypt
The heavy steel harmonograph sculpture on which I have been working for more than a year is finally finished and working, and it is time to give it the debut it deserves! It has been the fruit of some inspiring influences and some very supportive collaborations (see my earlier posts categorized under Harmonograph), and the spirit of collaboration continues in engineering its launch.
I have been building a new website – Anita Chowdry Visual Artist – which is dedicated to presenting my creative projects, where this kinetic sculpture can be see in action in a beautiful video created by artist Josh Jones. It now has a name – The Iron Genie – you can watch the video by clicking on the name.
In the film, the Iron Genie was demonstrated by a gifted young student called Julia. I was delighted by her involvement, because the sculpture was conceived to invite interaction. Onlookers can watch the progress of the drawings in the brass bezelled palladium mirror that sits at the very top of the structure.
We all helped to carry the Iron Genie to the crypt and set it up – it is constructed in component pieces that are bolted together on site, so transporting it is not as difficult as it looks. We set it up, and Josh Jones took over the direction and filming for the rest of the day. It was a fascinating insight into the way he works, and I had the opportunity to take these lovely pictures.
I love the finished film, beautifully edited and choreographed, with the Iron Genie looking rather steampunk and definitely sentient as it dances to music by Carl Orff.
So I would like to extend a Big Thankyou to Josh Jones for this beautiful video, and to Julia for animating it – and in general to all the artists, craftsmen and friends who have contributed a big dose of support and good will to this project.
There’s something mesmerising about a machine drawing in this way. I used to feel this when watching an HP plotter select pens and leisurely draw whatever was desired by the software – writing included. So part of me finds the harmonograph images fascinating, the more so if you can watch them being created, but part of me rebels against their deterministic nature and symmetry. I wonder how this might be changed (not that it need be). I assume complete reproducibility is more-or-less impossible. Pook (2011) has references to getting ‘rough’ reproducibility to enable particular types of output. Precision pendulum clocks are often ‘tuned’ by adding small weights to a weight tray about one-third down the pendulum rod from the point of suspension, avoiding stopping the pendulum. From the video it looks like you are using a similar period for each of the pendulums. How hard is it to set them at widely different ratios, or in-phase and anti-phase? Would having the pendulum rods graduated so that you can reproducibly position the bobs help? (I’m thinking to myself and don’t expect answers :)). As with the Foucault pendulum, reproducibly starting the swings is probably non-trivial. Pook says (p.125) “hand launching a twin-elliptic harmonograph to give countercurrent rotation is difficult, and practice is needed (Cundy and Rollett 1981). Bentham (1909) gives detailed instruction for launching a twin-elliptic harmonograph to give both concurrent and countercurrent rotation”.
I’m reminded of an exhibition at the Royal Academy decades ago (1990-ish), part of which involved Tibetan Buddhist monks creating beautiful sand mandalas over many days which they then destroyed (in a Western sense) and ceremonially dumped in the Thames. Your harmonograph could perhaps write with sand (thereby changing one parameter continually), and at the end, no matter how beautiful, you just stir it up and discard. That I think I could live with, irreproducible and transient!
Finally, I wonder how small a harmonograph could be. Square root scaling I guess, but with precision engineering and writing with light, who knows …
Pook, Understanding Pendulums – a brief introduction, Springer 2011.
Dear Walter, thanks for such interesting thoughts and observations. I remember posting a previous comment from you in response to my post about designing the Iron Genie, about pendulum frequencies. While I am somewhat out of my depth with the math, your practical and philosophical musings make absolute sense to me…. in the case of Iron Genie, the weights on the pendulums are very ealily adjustable as they are secured by a ‘nut’ that is tightened with an allen key – they only weigh about 3kg each. Their positioning certainly does change the output, and there are some combinations that do appear ‘in tune’ and others somewhat discordant. According to Anthony Ashley’s book ‘Harmonograph’ (Wooden Books) – you can replicate musical harmonies by adjusting the weights accordingly, and certain combinations produce distinct classes of drawing – which I have found to be true. However, as you state woth reference to Pook, because this particular beast also relies on all sorts of other variables, such as exactly when the pendulums are set in motion in relation to one another, and at what amplitude, and in which direction the rotational pendulum turns, you can never really predict the outcome – that is the fun of it. Can an analogue machine be truly non-deterministic – or do we look deeper at the variations within its parameters? Surely a human being drawing by hand is also in some way deterministic, because the outcome is determined by the person’s cultural parameters and perceptions?
I have witnessed the Tibetan sand mandalas you mention, it certainly inspires reflection.
Thankyou for the reference to Pook, I shall look that up.
Re. Walter Blackstock’s final comment about scaling – I wonder the same – I intend to build a small one & see how it works. I think the shorter length of the pendulum columns may be an issue, they would need to be vastly scaled down in mass, I think.
Dear Anita, First let me offer you New years Greetings and thank you for sending this article and video. I have enjoyed it greatly. A lovely little film, with apt and fitting music to illustrate its harmonograph qualities. What a marvellous machine and producing such incredible images. It is a wonderful mixture of art and machine in the same way as a steam engine. Such an engine can pull its own wieght of 50 tons and then 10 carriages as well all by the mixture of coal and water. The harmongraph creates art which could not be matched by human endeavour, and has the same appeal of a crafted machine as it produces it. Even static its looks purposeful, and in good victorian fashion has artistic details, which although not necessary for the mechanics of the machine, demonstrate a cultured person in its creator, at home with engineering and art. I am very impressed and would love to see it in action for myself. Is it going on display sometime? Do please let me know. Yours aye Richard Gould
Thankyou so much for your comments, Richard. What you have described is precisely the spirit in which it was created. I am planning to promote it’s display at some suitable institution in the near future, and I shall certainly share news about such developments! Wishing you a happy New Year,