One can imagine the mobile sculpture having its source in ritual practices. These constructions may have been used as a form of protection or to establish links to dead ancestors. Stephen H. Kawai, for example, suggests they may derive from interest in “oriental wind-chimes or orreries (toy-like models of the Solar System)”. The influence of Industrialisation, mass production and the development of machines enabling many kinds of movement has also been cited.
Add to this an engineer with experience in studio art and an interest in toys, and you have Alexander Calder, the well known artist who became the key exponent of this 20th century phenomenon. But Calder neither invented nor became the last word in this type of art. More than a decade before Calder produced his first air influenced sculptures, Man Ray took a bunch of clothes hangers and hung them off each other to form a triangular spatial structure called Obstruction.
Vladimir Tatlin, Alexander Rodchenko and Naum Gabo also made various kinds of mobile sculptures. Though the works incorporated movement, they were not necessarily suspended.
George Rickey, Jean Tinguely and Lynn Chadwick also explored balance and movement through their work. And in 1967 Mark de Suvero offered an engaging varient by incorporating a free moving suspended element in Are Years What? (for Marianne Moore).
Since Calder’s playful output the mobile has been adapted to function as a design element, conversation piece, and nursery room fixture. 21st century artists have also abandoned the abstraction Calder favoured. Instead they use found elements and figurative themes.
In what may seem a homage to Man Ray, Dan Steinhilber suspends large arrays of paper covered clothes hangers that inspire visions swooping bird flocks and mathematical progressions. Inhibited by contact with the floor, the hangers movement is limited to gentle movements created by passers by and climate control systems.
Michael Kalmbach creates figures out of papier maché that seem to be 3-D extensions of his large watercolour paintings. These characters are innocent and earthy, comical, clone-like and isolated. They drift through space. One can imagine them being trapped in a dream from which there is no escape.
HM02MG, by Sofie Muller, presents a dystopic scenerio that is more nightmare than dream. Heads dangle together with surgical implements. On the floor beneath the suspended collection of horrific specimen, the contents of various bottles and flasks also imply the presence of bodily fluids. The work both attracts interest and repels. That response also mirrors the force of magnets the artist has employed in the sculpture. They are what create movement.
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