Introducing: Arthur Ganson, Kinetic Artist

As a kid, I was fascinated by an old clock my grandfather used to own, that utilized small steel balls that would ride up an elevator, roll down a series of black (wood?) rails and land in a queue of other steel balls at a pace of one per minute. Once that queue got up to 60 balls, they would all (except for one) tumble down and start the process over again. The one ball would be added up into a line of 24 balls, for each hour. You could tell the time to the minute just by counting how many balls were in each queue — and that is something I vowed to one day create for myself.

Arthur Ganson is a similar artist who makes art made up of moving pieces. Most of them may not be quite as handy as a steel ball timepiece, but they sure are clever and took plenty of tinkering. Here’s a list of my favorite contraptions he’s made over the years, and a YouTube example of those pieces in action.

The sculpture above is called Small Tower of Six Gears, which demonstrates the kinds of gears you’ll be seeing in other bits of his work — simple, bent lengths of metal wire. The tower, to me, represents a series of math equations going on all at once, but as I’m not a math junkie (more the reverse) it’s fun to watch the process in action without having to understand it — much in the way children are able to simply “play” without particularly thinking of the intellectual ramifications or metaphoric sub-context. It’s like being able to watch a movie for the fun of it, instead of seeing movies for their art direction, their budgeting choices, their marketability, and their plot decisions made on the editing room floor. It just works.

Machine With Roller Chain is a sculpture that is always changing, and based on the seemingly random shape that at bunched-up bicycle chain naturally falls into when clumped up. A small hole pulls one end of the chain down onto a rotating gear below, and another nearby hole spits out the chain to be further lost into the ever-changing mess. It’s like order and chaos at the same time.

Child Watching Ball seems like it would be perfectly mathematical to calculate, but I would never have taken that path. A little doll head keeps his eyes fixed on a ball that spins in a predictable (but lengthy) pattern. The mechanism that turns the ball is impressive, but the mechanism for the doll’s head is amazing for its super-simple operation.

faster! is a device mounted on a cart that is propelled by pushing the cart forward. The spoked bicycle wheels turn the series of gears and specially-carved flywheels that move a pen-holding hand which in turn writes out the word, “faster!” on a pad.

Meditations One, Two, and Three are concepts that Arthur had originally made from a structurally unsound lead solder material but later discovered that his devices would not stand the test of time, and were re-created into these three pieces to reflect on mechanisms he enjoyed contemplating. And so do I.

Machine with 23 scraps of Paper uses a technique I like to call “simple en masse” where a simplistic mechanism is duplicated many multiple times in a small area. This machine makes a bunch of scraps of paper flutter in place, as if they were a bunch of birds. Lovely!

The Dream seems just like a few dreams I’ve had — peculiar mechanisms each aiding in the operation of the next above it, some perhaps a few steps up, all just to twirl a little antenna. The clanking bit is done at the very bottom and has no particular function than to add a pinch of steampunk atmosphere, perhaps ^_^

You can find other machines of thought-provoking purposes at his website,, or more specifically, his sculptures page therein.

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