# Final Report Part 1: Alexander Calder Inspired Kinetic Mobile

For my final project, I drew 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.

[1]

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. Starting this project I believed one of the biggest challenges will be ensuring that everything aligns properly and carefully balancing the weight of the individual ornaments on the mobile. This was in fact not the case, it was shockingly easy and I did it entirely by feel rather than math. Below is another of his works from which I’m drawing inspiration.

[3]

I didn’t try to be as ambitious in my design as trying to emulate the first photo I showed in this post, but I did 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 was most closely trying to emulate is the one shown below. I really adore the curved lines that fall off of the mobiles.

[4]

I wanted 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 of this project, and though it didn’t turn out completely as I had initially designed, I’m still very happy with the end result. I wanted 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 believed 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. This was in fact correct, as I pivoted my design to be somewhat different as I actually worked on the project.

I planned to manufacture the project using aluminum sheeting that I cut using wire snips and then sand down to a rough finish. I punched holes that I used 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:

[5]

I also wanted to utilize bright colors in the project, which I hoped 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 hoped 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 used 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 planned 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 then used fishing line to connect the individual arms together and do overall assembly of the model.

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 settled into a good idea that I can be genuinely proud of now that I’ve finished project. This wasn’t a type of art that I’d really tried before so I was 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.

As is, the my final project is shown in the following image. I still need to implement the paint to correct the color, but other than that it’s been finished:

[1] https://whitney.org/collection/works/2826

[2] https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/alexander-calder-848/who-is-alexander-calder

[3] https://calder.org/works/hanging-mobile/untitled-c-1937/

[4] https://calder.org/works/hanging-mobile/untitled-c-1942-7/

[5] https://www.marcomahler.com/wire-for-hanging-mobile/

• Andres Serrano
April 28, 2024 11:29 pm

I’ve commented on one of your posts before and I am happy to see the progress that this has made! I think it’s great that you used the golden ratio in order to make this project actually work. Do you think you’ll do anything else with it? Maybe add more color or more pieces to it?