Design Preview Plans: Modern Art Kinetic Sculpture

For my final project, I’ve drawn significant inspiration from the work of Alexander Calder, one of the most prolific mobile makers of all time. His creations fall into the category of impressionist modern art, with his sculptures embodying quintessential modernism. Throughout his lifetime, he crafted thousands of kinetic sculptures and received astounding critical acclaim, with pieces ending up in places like the Guggenheim Museum and various other exhibits worldwide. I vividly remember seeing his mobiles in third grade, and they have stuck with me since then. At my elementary school, we participated in an activity called “Art in the Suitcase,” where parents would volunteer to teach art to students, dedicating the entire afternoon to delving deeply into the work of a specific artist. Afterwards, we were set free to create our own versions of their work. My attempt at Calder’s mobile during that time ended up being fully lopsided. This time, I hope to create one that’s more effective. Below is one of Calder’s most famous mobiles.


Another reason why I’m so fascinated with Calder’s mobiles is the mathematics behind them. Every aspect of the project involves a delicate balancing act, with moment arms twisting downwards, carefully designed weights, and pivot points. The design of these mobiles feels intuitive. It’s understandable that Calder had such a fascination with this form of art, given that he was also a trained mechanical engineer. I believe one of the biggest challenges will be ensuring that everything aligns properly and carefully balancing the weight of the individual ornaments on the mobile. To tackle this, I plan to use an Excel spreadsheet to organize all the masses and moment arms, allowing me to determine the angles of all the pieces when I want them to line up. I think achieving proper alignment so that the mobile can freely spin and rotate will be optimal. Below is another of his works from which I’m drawing inspiration.


I don’t think I’m going to be as ambitious as trying to emulate the first photo I showed in this post, but I believe I could create something similar to the second photo. I appreciate the Bauhaus inspirations evident in his work, with clean abstract shapes and simple colors. I particularly enjoy the fractal-like shapes that emerge from his mobiles, and I find the juxtaposition of soft contours with sharp vertical lines to be one of the most intriguing aspects of his work. The piece that I am most closely trying to emulate is the one shown below. I really adore the curved lines that fall off of the mobiles.


Currently, my plan involves cutting shapes out of aluminum sheets, sanding them down, and then spray painting them to achieve the desired color. Subsequently, I will utilize pieces of stiff metal wire to construct the horizontal frames, ensuring they are sized appropriately for the masses of each aluminum sheet shape (as determined from the spreadsheet). Next, I will affix hand made metal loops for the strings and attach the strings themselves, completing the assembly of the entire structure.

I want to utilize the golden ratio within my design. I’ve had a bit of an obsession with the Fibonacci sequence since I was in elementary school; I used to watch videos by a creator called “Vi Hart” where they discussed the natural occurrence of the golden ratio in nature. Ironically I used to watch these videos in my math class instead of learning how to do long division, a skill set that I shamefully still struggle with (whoops). In the videos Vi explains how the Fibonacci sequence occurs in pine-cones, pine-apples, most forms of plant growth, and most forms of calcium based shells. This is caused because growth hormones within organisms move to the the place of least development based on particle dispensation and attractive forces. There’s a phenomenal experiment that showcases this occurrence using repulsive magnetic drops in a pool of high density liquid. As more pearls of magnetic liquid are added into the pool the pathing of the liquid to the edge of the dish follows the Fibonacci sequence. A lot of Calder’s work utilizes the ratio within the placement of the ornaments of the mobiles, which is an idea I’d like to evoke within my project as well. Vi Hart and their videos are one of the biggest pathways from art into engineering that I found when I was younger, it’s probably one of the main reasons why I eventually moved into engineering as my field of subject.

I’ve attached a sketch below for my final design sketch of this project. I want to play with the main mobile structural lines in this design, starting with a down turned line and then gradually inverting to be a vertical line that has an ornament hung at the bottom of it. I think getting the look of weightlessness would be the most challenging portion of the project: a large counterweight will be required to achieve the gradual angular transition I’m looking for.

I plan to manufacture the project using aluminum sheeting that I cut using wire snips and then sand down to a rough finish. I then will punch the holes that I’ll use to attach the wires to the panels with a steel punch. Calder slightly bent the metal to create a dynamic look for the metal panels, looped the wire through the first hole, and then loops back to the main branch through the second hole. In essence the wire is locking the rotation of the metal sheets from rotating without requiring epoxy, welding, or another form of external bonding.The below image display this method:Photo of Calder Mobile Wire Connection Loops


I want to utilize bright colors in the project, which I hope to achieve by using primer and spray paint on the aluminum panels that I’ve cut out using tin snips. By coating the wire attachments that lock the metal panes in place I hope to create the illusion of a seamless transition from panel to arm (benefited by the fact that the mobile will be hanging above the head of the audience out of range for scrutinization). I’m going to use 14 gauge wire to secure everything together as it has both appropriate rigidity levels while also being bendable enough to be easily manipulated to create the physical structure that I’m looking for. I plan to affix the individual ornaments to the bars with some back of the napkin calculations on the general lengths of the mobile beams, then moving the fulcrum of the mobile with my hands to eventually loop the wire back on itself to create a permanent fixture. I’m going to to use fishing line to connect the individual arms together and do overall assembly of the model. I may need to get 10 pound fishing line, and I may need to get a brief refresher of the knots that are secure with that type of cord.

One of the biggest challenges that I expect to run into is the center of mass of the beams shifting to create a slightly varied twist within the balance of the model. I’m worried that the orientation of the beams will be twisted out of my intended orientation because of shoddy craftsmanship on my end. I think the best way to achieve my intended design is to bend the beams to have a clear downturn, I expect that’s the reason for the clean bends Calder uses in the majority of his large ornament pieces. Another problem I expect to run into is the potential hanging problem. I don’t know if a simple command strip hook will be able to hold the entire weight of the mobile, I may need to invest into drywall anchors or another method to lock the model to the ceiling. A floor mounted stand may be another solution.

Initially I made a number of rough sketches but they all lacked the central theme that I found intriguing like the golden ratio. I think I’ve settled into a good idea that I can be genuinely proud of at the end of the semester. This isn’t a type of art that I’ve really tried before so I’m a bit nervous about messing up the project and then needing to present to the class a failed art project.

A lot of the art I had the opportunity to consume and be educated on throughout my life has been modern art or impressionist works of art. I know there sometimes is a narrative that abstract and modern art can be overly simple and lack some of the technical skills that are required to make “Traditional Art” but I am a firm believer in the ability to make an audience feel emotions and perceive certain ideas through abstract shapes and carefully constructed lines. Throughout the semester I’ve spoken in an almost neurotic level of depth about the implementation of the Bauhaus and it’s influences on modern aesthetics, I believe that this project really represents this idea: embodying the central design elements of the philosophy.






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4 Comments. Leave new

  • Andres Serrano
    March 17, 2024 10:11 pm

    I love how this idea blends science with art and is a fully functioning object while also portraying beauty. I believe that with your knowledge and experience you can grab from your research is going to allow you to make a beautifully performed final project. I’m so excited to see how this thing turns out!

  • Dear Trent,

    Your latest project, which draws heavily on Alexander Calder’s kinetic sculptures, is a testament to your innovative spirit and deep appreciation for modernist art. You’ve managed to encapsulate the essence of Calder’s work, aiming to replicate the balance and elegance of his mobiles while introducing your unique perspective through meticulous planning and mathematical precision.

    Your endeavor to capture the golden ratio in your design speaks volumes about your ambition to blend art with science. This echoes Calder’s own journey as an engineer turned artist. Your thoughtful approach, from selecting materials to calculating balance points, is commendable and reflects a deep commitment to authenticity and quality.

    The challenges you anticipate, such as ensuring the stability of your mobile and achieving the desired aesthetic effect, are indeed significant. However, your methodical preparation and creative problem-solving strategies are your greatest assets. Your fascination with the Fibonacci sequence and its natural beauty, combined with your engineering background, positions you uniquely to tackle these challenges head-on.

    In summary, your project not only pays homage to a legendary artist but also showcases your own creative and technical prowess. It’s clear you’ve poured your heart into this work, and I’m confident the final piece will be as impactful and mesmerizing as Calder’s own creations.

    Best regards,

    • Trent Bjorkman
      March 20, 2024 11:46 am

      Hi Jon, thanks for the comment! I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to write so much praise for my idea. It’s very thoughtful… hopefully my project can live up to the expectations.


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