This weeks assignment for my Mechanisms and Things That Move class is to identify two impressive mechanisms / machines, one which is I consider art and the other which is practical / functional.
When first given the assignment, I immediately thought of the kinetic sculptural work of George Rhoades. He has made several “ball run” sculptural pieces, but I first encountered his 42nd st Ballroom in the Port Authority bus terminal (please pardon the video, there is a lack of documentation but I highly recommend that if it is an option to visit it in person). According to the plaque, the sculpture was installed in 1983 and has been running since then. Individual pool balls are carried up a lift of sorts whereby they are then let loose on various paths, creating noise along the way.
I believe this piece to have no additional purpose besides ‘art.’ While the pool balls do create an arrangement of noise, there is not enough consistency or rhythm to classify the results as ‘music’ per se. However, I cannot help but find myself fascinated by the repeat journey from top to bottom, only to be carried up once more and set about on a different path.
It has been much harder to think of a specific practical impressive mechanism. Not that there aren’t hundreds of machines out there that make my life somehow massively or marginally better over the course of the day, but most of them are far out of sight (and therefore out of mind). For all of the complaining that we all do, I believe the New York Subway System to be one of the more impressive mechanisms. A passenger is able to get from one to several hundred other places mostly below ground by traveling through large tunnels inside of trains powered by miles of electrical lines. I think it is worth considering the entire system as a mechanism, and observing how the several connected bits serve to provide functional transportation for a large amount of the population of New York (unless you live in Brooklyn, or Queens for that matter…I have no experience within the Bronx).