As a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Amersfoort in the Netherlands, Willem van Weeghel was working on an assignment to create a wall piece. While organising the various parts he wondered what it would be like if all the pieces moved through all the positions — which led to the creation of his first piece of kinetic art and a life-long passion for this form of art.
Today, the 62-year old Dutch artist is well-known for his contemporary interpretation of kinetic art that combines traditional art forms such as painting and sculpture with engineering and latest digital technology. His mesmerising optical creations can be found in museums, private collections, public spaces such as hospitals and offices, galleries and art fairs around the world. Art lovers in the UAE can experience his work at his first solo show in the region, Dynamic Structures, hosted by MB&F M.A.D. Gallery, Dubai.
Van Weeghel is presenting six limited edition artworks that look like abstract collages featuring hand-painted canvases with pieces in various geometric shapes attached to the surface. But behind the canvases, hidden from the eyes of the viewer, is a computer system programmed to operate sophisticated machinery, which moves the pieces across the canvases.
In a precisely choreographed dance, the individual pieces move silently in different ways and at varying speeds to form ever changing patterns. The movement is emphasised by the bright colours and colour contrasts used by the artist. Visually the movement and the kaleidoscopic patterns it creates are beautiful and hypnotic, but on a deeper level they symbolise the passage of time, our constantly changing world and the dynamic balance between order and chaos in the universe.
Rather than giving titles to his works, the artist simply assigns them numbers to leave them open for individual interpretation. Dynamic Structure 171113 is a monumental hand-painted white canvas with eight ebony lines moving across the surface. The lines rotate independently on four points and two axes in different directions and at different speeds crisscrossing, aligning and diverging in different ways leading to new patterns being formed and dissolved endlessly.
Another large canvas has six cobalt coloured T-shaped elements dancing across a navy-blue background to unfold an array of abstract and geometric patterns. In other smaller works, the moving elements include circles, squares and triangles waltzing together to generate captivating patterns.
Van Weeghel is involved in every detail of bringing each work alive — from painting the canvases to welding the moving parts and assembling the technical components. Describing his creative process, the artist says, “it all starts with an image in my head and then I make a simple sketch. I feel an idea has potential if it keeps popping back in my mind for months. I flesh out the idea in computer animation to test all the possible movements and then it is constructed in a 3D CAD (computer aided drafting) programme. At the same time, I develop the software programme that coordinates the movement between all the elements.”
“I focus on the everchanging, fluid motion in my compositions, so I always begin working from the front. I think about what the viewer should see or feel with the piece and then try to achieve that through technical means. I spend countless hours building and testing the software to ensure that the technical side is totally reliable, everything works properly and the front and back are well balanced. My next challenge is to create a self-learning automated system to operate my kinetic compositions,” he adds.
The gallery is also hosting an exhibition of German artist Gaby Wormann’s amazing and astonishing collection of mechanical creatures or MeCre for short. Wormann’s mechanical art is inspired by the writings of Franz Kafka and the work of artists H.R. Giger and Pierre Matter. She takes tiny watchmaking and mechanical engineering components such as gears, plates, balance springs and filaments and incorporates them into the bodies of prepared insects to create eerily beautiful bionic insects.
Insects are a marvel of nature and I am inspired by their beauty and fragility. I enjoy the artistic challenge of modifying their bodies in a technical way and giving them a new futuristic identity.
Her MeCre series represents her futuristic vision of the evolution of insects into new hybrid life forms that are more efficient, resistant and technically optimised. Grafting the tiny mechanical parts onto the fragile insect bodies requires great skill, patience and creativity. Having mastered this technique, the artist has done intensive research on insect physiques and biomechanics to create her largest ever cyborg creatures.
Her exotic insects look alarmingly real and alive. They include Theraphosa blondi secundus — a tarantula with a mechanised body and hairy mechanically enhanced legs and Chalcosoma atlas sextus — a giant beetle with layers of mechanical gears. The collection also includes a scorpion with super-sized claws and bionic legs, butterflies and moths with colourful fragile wings attached to watchmaking parts, and much more.
“Insects are a marvel of nature and I am inspired by their beauty and fragility. I enjoy the artistic challenge of modifying their bodies in a technical way and giving them a new futuristic identity. A photograph, illustration or digital rendering cannot adequately depict my vision. I want people to experience these mechanical creatures in real life to see the beauty and intricate details, hence I am excited to have my first solo show in this region and present my best and most elaborate creations,” Wormann says.
Maximilian Büsser, founder and curator of MB&F M.A.D. Gallery is a micro-engineer and watchmaker from Switzerland. He gave up a successful career in the watch industry to establish MB & F (Maximilian Büsser & Friends) — a company that specialises in creating radical and original horological machines. His ‘friends’ are the best artisans, micro-engineers and watchmakers in the industry who help him to bring alive his imaginative designs, and he gives these unknown craftsmen the recognition they deserve by displaying their photographs in all his galleries.
Driven by the desire to connect with and promote other artists working in the field of mechanical and kinetic art, Büsser conceptualised M.A.D. Gallery (the name stands for Mechanical Art Devices), where his own horological creations are displayed alongside their work. The gallery was launched in Geneva in 2011, followed by a branch in Taipei, the Dubai gallery, which opened in 2016 in collaboration with Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, and a space in Hong Kong.
“In today’s world of digital technology and smart devices, watch making is an anachronistic and dying art, but I love it because it is so beautiful. We are making kinetic art that also happens to give the time. We spend many years working on the engineering, and hand finishing of every detail, making just one new design per year and a few hundred pieces of every model. Most people did not understand what I was trying to do in watch making because it is not practical, and just a form of art to express myself. But I realised that there are many other artists who are similarly following their passion for kinetic and mechanical art. My aim with this gallery is to find such artists and provide them a platform to showcase their work and develop it further,” Büsser says.
“I am thrilled to present the work of these two talented artists in Dubai. Willem’s captivating work, which is the result of immense creativity, advanced engineering and thousands of hours of skilled craftsmanship reveals the extraordinary growth of kinetic art worldwide and has been successfully exhibited in our other galleries. I discovered Gaby’s work on the internet a few years ago and was immediately mesmerised. The incredible mastery of her ‘mechanical grafting’ technique is breathtaking. You have to see the work of these artists up close to believe it and I welcome everyone to visit the gallery and experience their remarkable creations,” he adds.
Jyoti Kalsi is an arts-enthusiast based in Dubai.
Dynamic Structures and MeCre will run at MB&F M.A.D. Gallery, Dubai Mall, until September 15.