Take a look at the work in progress

Kinetic art - the technology

I am restarting work in kinetic art, which combines my love of both Art and Science. If you don't know what kinetics is, take a look at the leading group of kineticists based in London at http://www.kinetica-museum.org/.

Kinetic means movement or change. In art this may be a change in position, speed, sound pitch, timbre or loudness, light brightness or colour and so on. For me, at least for now, it means physical movement. To get physical movement you need an actuator, usually an electric motor.

Just as a painter has to choose and mix (or buy) colours, brushes and canvasses, I have had to re-learn about motors and how to control them. When I first started this work there were no personal computers. I had to make do with mains motors of low power, that could not be varied in speed. Now we have motors of great power that can be positioned to fractions of millimetres and moved at varying speeds. They work at low voltages, which is safer for objects on public display, and for the artist. These motors, called 'stepper motors', are used very widely, for example in machine tools, printers and cars.

The other excellent innovation is on the electronic control side. The Arduino group in Italy http://www.arduino.cc/ has given us the design of an excellent range of control boards and software with which to read and control all kinds of transducer including motors. Unlike the money-grubbing locked-up designs of consumer devices like phones, pads and Apple computers, these boards and environments are open source and give me, the designer, a wonderful range of tools. Together with motors, they are my colours, brushes and canvas.

Where to start? After the control board, the key physical object is the motor. I have had to research these over the last few months. I decided to describe them in case anyone else might find it useful. There are many projects other than art that use them. The most revolutionary is perhaps the RepRap project on three-dimensional printers. Perhaps in one sense this is one form of kinetic art? There is a blog on http://builders.reprap.org/ and of course a Wiki. Once you know about stepper motors and Arduino perhaps you will have a damascene moment and realise that you can now do something that you've been thinking about for years.

Take a look at the work in progress


(c) Peter Scott 2012

Last edit 10 January 2016