About Kinetic Mobiles
A mobile is a hanging sculpture of moving parts that twist and sway in the
breeze. Mobiles are very light, skeletal constructions, often made of wires
and plates that seem to float in space. They are thought of as abstract
sculpture, but this is only because it is very, very hard to make one that
actually looks like something.
Kinetic art is a sculptural form that actually moves in space. This
movement continually changes the shapes and forms that have been
assembled to make up the sculpture. Movement can be caused by such
forces as wind, jets of water, electric motors, or the actions of the viewer.
A little history
Mobiles are most famously associated with Alexander Calder, third in a
family line of sculptors, who began experimenting with hanging wire
constructions in the late 1920's. It is Calder who fully developed the idea of
a mobile as a kinetic assemblage that sculpts space.
Calder's early kinetic sculptures were abstract motorised constructions, plays
on mechanical models of the solar system whose planets and moons would
carve circles and cycloids out of space as they whirled about each other. To
these Marcel Duchamp gave the name "mobiles" in 1931. Soon after, Calder
abandoned motors and began exploring wind-powered mobiles, building very
delicate wire sculptures tipped with metal sails to catch the breeze.
Mobiles are a difficult medium. It can be quite hard to make a mobile look
"as intended." Where the masses will float in space, how long the wires are,
and where the fulcrums wind up are largely dictated by the mechanics of
balance. This is probably why nearly all mobiles are abstract and not
Calder said he usually meant to make one thing and wound up making
He built his mobiles from the inside out, first looping and hooking a wire,
then looking for a spot along its length where a weight would balance. If you
go to a museum and you can see traces of his trial-and-error method in the
way he clipped wires and stapled on weights wherever he found a favourable
balance. Occasionally he built two or three models of the same mobile,
trying to find a set of balance points that would allow him to place the
weights exactly where he wanted them to float in space.
Alternatively, you can build a mobile from the outside in: Choose where the
weights will float, sketch wires, estimate balance points, and repeatedly
revise the wires until they pass through their balance points. Because the
wires have mass, revisions change the balance points, making outside-in
method rather painstaking. However, because it allows much more control
over what the mobile will actually look like, it opens the door to a realm of
much more expressive and representational kinetic sculptures.
This mobile is a representation of my Siamese cat "Snoop
Kitty Kit". I start out by making all the parts from German
Silver and anodised aluminium wire. After I solder it all
together, the pieces are balanced and attached to the frame.
When the body is done, the eyes, whiskers and tags are
added. Hang this one from your ceiling and watch it play in
The finished piece is approximately H x W x D = 10 x 5 x 8in
Welcome to the whimsical world of wire mobiles and kinetic sculptures. A
metalsmithing class at the University of Oregon in Eugene introduced Robert
Harrison to wire sculpture. From there he began his sculptured mobile art.
Robert's mobiles suggest a variety of subjects from abstract to comical to
human faces with "thoughts" in their heads, to our solar system.
Alexander Calder first popularised mobiles beginning in the 1920's and
continued to create them all the way up to the 1970's. On average he
created one piece of artwork everyday for 50 years. In fact, Calder created
more than 16,000 items. The main body of his work was mobiles, stabiles,
paintings, sculptures and jewellery.