Machines that move ideas

I had no idea who Stephen Gerberich was before today. I had driven past the big sign in front of the Muscatine Art Center, announcing the Springs Sprockets and Pulleys exhibit, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the road long enough to take in the artist’s name, or even remember the name of the exhibit. When I suggested to Al that we go see it today, all I could tell him was that it was art made of hardware.

If Gerberich made them, probably even simple sculptures made from nuts, bolts, nails, and screws would probably be impressive. But his mechanical sculptures are so much more than I had imagined. To begin with, they move (I had hoped this would be the case, but it seemed like asking too much). Our first introduction to his work, as we entered the museum, was a man walking a dog.

Al pressed a button, and the dog’s legs started moving. After a few seconds of marveling at the whole composition, I started to notice details. The dog’s feet are forks – rather apt, I think, considering what Kyra’s toenails feel like when she steps on me in bed. The dog’s body is made from a metal pitcher, and its tail is (I think) a paintbrush. Elsewhere I noticed an ice cream scoop, and a potato masher twisted to make the man’s hand.

I hoped that wasn’t the best of the exhibit, shown at the very beginning. Far from it! After admiring several more of Gerberich’s smaller creations, we entered one of the main exhibit halls just as another visitor pressed the button to start The Gerberich Grand Orchestra. Life-size mechanical musicians move their arms on a piano, trombone, and other instruments, while a conductor waves his baton. I’m pretty sure the music we heard must have come from a CD, but it was still quite impressive. As Al hurried me on to press the button on another exhibit, I was just noticing how many trumpets and clarinets were lying on the floor at the musicians’ feet.

In these larger exhibits, that was one of the salient features – all the details in the scene aside from the moving parts. It reminded me a bit of a life-size “I Spy” (just try and count all the bowling pins in the bowling pin factory exhibit). Since Al was greatly enjoying himself and I didn’t want to spoil it by making him wait while I took in all the details, I must have missed a lot. But, contrary to my fear that if I didn’t go today I might miss the whole thing (as has happened with previous traveling exhibits when I put off the visit for too long), this one will be around for the rest of 2010. Maybe next time I’ll get Jon to go with me.

I had intended to take my camera with me, though I didn’t know whether I would be allowed to use it. But it’s probably just as well I forgot. Still shots just wouldn’t do justice to the mechanical marvels (and considering my meager skills at video photography, that probably wouldn’t have done justice to it either). Besides, there was just so much to see. I would have had to take at least a dozen shots of each exhibit, from various angles, just to get it all.

And nothing I could post on my blog here would give you the feel of standing there watching mechanical geese flying overhead, honking audibly and flapping their suitcase-wings. They’re far from realistic – after all, probably anyone with enough money and mechanical know-how could create realistic-looking mechanical flying geese. But how many people would think to use an open suitcase flapping its two sides up and down for the wings?

It’s hard to say which was my favorite, but I think it might have been the Paint Factory. One one horizontal gear were a set of giraffes, each one rubbing against a spotted roller as it passed. On a vertical gear were the zebras, going past a striped roller. It was hard to tell if the roller for the elephants was gray, but I suppose it must have been – after all, the elephants were all gray.

You’ll see part of that exhibit, as well as the man walking the dog, the orchestra, and more, if you check out the video at our local newspaper’s website. But it’s not the same as being there. Fortunately for us, we live here, and we’ll have plenty more chances to visit (Al just told me we need to go again) and see what Gerberich calls “machines that move ideas.”


One Response to Machines that move ideas

  1. Andrew says:

    I too was amazed by Gerberich’s exhibit. Steve was there for the show opening and he’s a really nice guy! My favorite pieces were the “suitcase geese” – almost like object theater!

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