I had a great visit with LL to see the new Alexander Calder display at the Tate Modern. Calder was born in 1898 and trained as a mechanical engineer. He developed a sculptural style which fused mechanics, motion and modernity. Many of Calder’s early works were wire sculptures based around his interests in circus and balance. These developed into motorised sculptures explicitly including kinetics and movement and at the same time became increasingly abstract.
I admitted to LL at the time that I didn’t really connect with the pieces in the first half of the exhibition. The motorised sculptures, due to their age were shown static. What is a kinetic sculpture which has been stripped of its energy? I felt so much loss in the loss of movement, that the sculptures began to resemble just shadows of what they once were. Calder himself “recognised that the ability to control movement was perhaps less fertile than the potential infinite possibilities that opened up with free movement” [Tate Modern exhib guide, 2015].
Calder’s later works began to rely upon natural kinetics rather than embedded motors, and this was for me the most spectacular part of his collection. The mobile pieces which most clearly embodied abstraction seem also to be those which are most inspired by natural forms. Delicate sinuous shapes which drift and twist in the breeze. Even your presence offered a subtle change in movement – the work and its shadow on the walls creating an intricate dance which never has the same form twice. My favourite piece, Red sticks (1942) I couldn’t source a video of online and I will not do it the injustice of showing a static, lifeless photograph of it. We sat in the gallery for ages (room 9 in case you are interested!) completely captivated by the motions of the works.
This work, Snow Flurry was one of my favourites. Although this video below doesn’t show how the sculpture and its shadow interact as one object, it gives a lovely overview of the beauty of the movement:
This next video is a press overview of the whole exhibition, this does show the works in their settings and how the space itself becomes part of the motion of the mobiles.
Overall the exhibition brought be back to consider the section of my research essay I looked at on place generated through movement. These works were more based upon space than place, but showed a fascinating process capturing movement so explicitly within an object and its surroundings. The mobiles keep your attention in a way that a stationary object doesn’t.
I wondered why this is…is this because humans only respond to deltas – to changes – rather than absolutes? We cannot feel the exact temperature outside, we can only tell if it is warmer or colder than we last felt. We cannot remember time if there are no changes within it to distinguish one moment from the next. What of this can be said to be true of our sense of self: do we feel a connection to our inner self only when there is something to explicitly connect it to? Is this where the idea of a sense of place comes from? If our lives are a series of interconnected spaces must we generate our own meanings (our own places) in order to be able to comprehend them in any way?