Advice — Turn everyday objects into kinetic sculptures, with some help from designer Liang-Jung Chen
This week, helping to keep our creative juices running is Liang-Jung Chen, founder of research-based design project, The Misused. Focused on inspiring people to reimagine uses for hardware products in creative ways, it’s bound to get you looking at your hardware in a whole new way. Here, Liang shares some DIY kinetic sculpture exercises, inspired by iconic American sculptor Alexander Calder. So what are you waiting for? Grab some materials, and read on as Liang teaches us how to create your very own Calder using everyday objects found around the house.
Getting Creative with Materials at Home
Like many freelancers, a significant portion of my commissioned work has been postponed or cancelled – meaning a lack of product development projects, and no design workshops to facilitate. But this time at home, I hope, will allow us some time to pay closer attention to the details around us. Instead of purchasing a new item, now is the perfect time to think about how we can utilise existing materials, and transform them into something of value.
I was introduced to Alexander Calder’s work at a very young age. Ever since, I’ve had an itch to create my own mobile that I can hang up at home. Now that we’re in lockdown, I’ve taken this time of stillness to create a series of kinetic mobiles from a range of day-to-day materials, like bottle caps, paper pins and much more.
Based on the principle of equilibrium, the sculptures can be constructed with almost anything. This exercise will hopefully elevate items which you might otherwise ignore or discard. Each example will be exploring the endless connection between weight, movement, and gravity in the form of a three dimensional composition. Have a try at home, and see what comes of it!
Pliers, Tin Snips, Scissors, Scalpel, Awl, Drill
Here I tried to create a stabile [a free-standing abstract sculpture or structure] which balances with an emphasis on verticality. On top, I have placed a pattress box that holds up a wooden ball comfortably. I have also hung a sanding disc from the sculpture, in order for it to sway in-between its legs.
There are no rules! The motion of counter-balancing can be formed with almost anything. There is no one way for how two or more objects can function in equilibrium. So feel free to try something else aside from what I have suggested here.
For this example, I played around with balance. I tried to make an object which balances counterintuitively; the aluminium ring could be seen as a counterweight, but it doesn’t really serve as such, as it’s directly below the pivot. Instead it just encircles the support. I garnished the sculpture with a blue plastic bottle cap.
According to the aesthetic principles of geometry, a round-shaped object comes with a sense of wholeness. It is often more visually pleasing than others, whether it’s a sphere, a disc, a hoop or a cylinder.
I started making this series with perhaps the most common hanging object – a hanger. By cutting the bottom of the hanger and carefully shaping it, a streamlined curve is formed. Here I’ve bent the wire, and added a ball and washer to create a visibly weightless piece
Be playful with your approach, both visually and structurally. Use objects which can provide opportunity and flexibility in terms of composition.
With this stabile, the main focus is on the different connections between the objects; a wire rope clamp is used to hold the wooden dowel, and a spring is used as a fixing point to hang the plastic ring. The lifting eye bolt at the other end is also used as a counterweight.
Experiment with, and celebrate how you can connect different materials to create a structure. Do you want it to be firm, or loose? Do you want to use ties? or screws? Would you rather glue? Or tape? Or stick?
This example is similar to the third, in that the central item is a hanger. However, I’ve added some more materials found around the home, like a bottle cap and a Foldback Clip. I found that the process can be compared to that of a three dimensional painting, drawing on the materials, colours, and shapes of the objects and how they sit next to each other.
Include contrasts. The small and the big; the long and the short; the heavy and the light. How they’re used can either accentuate the piece or cause conflict – conflicting materials can sometimes be quite charming! Experiment and see.
Looking for more inspiration?
Photography by Liang-Jung Chen