Normally when one thinks of moving art, animation, be it traditional hand-drawn or CGI, comes to mind. However, with Arthur Ganson’s “Ted Talk”, we’re shown fantastic moving sculptures, given motion by an ingenious use of gears and pulleys. But what really makes his art fantastical is not the use of the machines but his humorous vision that goes into them. The humor is subtle but nonetheless, fun and inspirational. Also, Ganson has a lot of interesting things to say.
Ganson starts off telling of how he first became interested in art due to a fascination with movement. He used to make flipbooks as a hobby when he was a child and even displays one of them, entitled “Great Race” to the audience. It depicts a rather brutal scenario in which two cars are racing. One of them hits a rock in the middle of the road, which results in both cars crashing into each other and going flying. One of them explodes, while the other one, driverless from the previous accident, collides with an ambulance resulting in more, as Ganson puts it, “gratuitous violence”. The flipbook is a very entertaining part of the Ted presentation. It also provides good insight into how Ganson’s mind worked when he was small. The fascination with movement is quite evident as is his willingness to do what he can to bring a concept to life.
He then recalls his days in high school when he thought about becoming a surgeon as it would require him to work with his hands in a very intense situation. However, in college he took art courses. This is when he began to make his strange moving sculptures. These contraptions are made up of many different gears and found objects, all simultaneously in motion. The visual style reminds me slightly of clock-punk fiction with the continuous turning of the gears and wheels.
One of the first sculptures we’re shown depicts a small plastic figurine of a man perched upon the top of a skeletal building structure. As one turns a handle at the bottom of the sculpture, the man “walks” across the roof. His jittery, humorous movement patterns recall that of the animated characters of South Park. Ganson uses this piece to explain that most of his works include “found objects” such as the figurine in this piece. This is because he’s constantly thinking about how an object would move if given the ability to do so. “…it's almost like doing visual puns all the time,” he explains. “When I see objects, I imagine them in motion; I imagine what can be said with them.” I’ve found myself thinking such thoughts before as well.
The next sculpture features a walking wishbone that Ganson found himself playing with after dinner one night. He was intrigued with how the structure of the bone served as its own locomotion. He created a machine that assisted the wishbone in its walking. The final image that is created is a haunting but still slightly humorous one, of a small beast of burden (the wishbone) pulling a turning, industrial machine many times its size across an endless landscape. It’s quite a surreal and, although somewhat sad, inspirational image.
He also shows us a very bizarre film of a conceptual piece called “Cory’s Yellow Chair”. This is a small model of his sons yellow chair. The model chair falls into several pieces due to machines and gears pulling it apart. The pieces are all pulled out farther and farther away until, as if by some gravitational force, they come back together in the complete form of a chair. It’s quite wonderful to behold. Only in certain shots can we see the gears of the machine moving, so it really looks more like some cool retro stop-motion animation.
Those are but a few of Ganson’s fantastic conceptual sculptures that we’re shown in the Talk. The imagination and artistic talent that Ganson exhibits with his creations is quite wonderful. He not only has an interesting and original artistic vision, but his ability to manifest his ideas with spinning wheels and gears so effectively is quite fascinating as well.
He also spends some time talking about some colorful life experiences he has had thanks to his works of art. These include inventing a tool to help bend wires for his projects and one to help hold them in place as he did so (before he came across a spot welder…) and joining a group in Boston called the “World Sculpture Racing Society”.
The group’s goal was to publicly display art. Ganson’s creation was quite interesting and once again, very conceptual. “So I made -- this is my first racing sculpture, and I thought, ‘Oh, I'm going to make a cart, and I'm going to have it -- I'm going to have my hand writing 'faster,' so as I run down the street, the cart's going to talk to me and it's going to go, 'Faster, faster!' " So that's what it does. But then in the end, what I decided, was every time you finish writing the word, I would stop and I would give the card to somebody on the side of the road. So I would never win the race because I'm always stopping. But I had a lot of fun.”
Ganson ends off the talk with a final sculpture. This piece has something about it that makes it very moving while at the same time awfully subtle. It’s a wheeled machine moving in a straight line, back and forth continuously, rotating (or as Ganson more accurately puts it, “dancing with”) a chair high about itself, as very tranquil music plays in the background. Eventually the chair is gently returned to the ground. The whole atmosphere that the video created was very enjoyable to experience. Something about it was very reassuring.
Ganson has a very poetic view on how he creates his work. His own words themselves offer the same sort of strange but comforting vibes. It is very clear from the following statement that he’s not only passionate about his work but he has an excellent enlightenment on his art.
“When I'm making these pieces, I'm always trying to find a point where I'm saying something very clearly and it's very simple, but also at the same time it's very ambiguous. And I think there's a point between simplicity and ambiguity which can allow a viewer to perhaps take something from it.
And that leads me to the thought that all of these pieces start off in my own mind, in my heart, and I do my best at finding ways to express them with materials, and it always feels really crude. It's always a struggle, but somehow I manage to sort of get this thought out into an object, and then it's there, OK. It means nothing at all. The object itself just means nothing. Once it's perceived, and someone brings it into their own mind, then there's a cycle that has been completed. And to me, that's the most important thing because ever since being a kid, I've wanted to communicate my passion and love, and that means the complete cycle of coming from inside out to the physical, to someone perceiving it.”
This “Ted Talk” was very interesting and I highly recommend watching it if you appreciate art. The works of Arthur Ganson may take a few seconds to fully understand, but many of them are both amusing and somewhat moving. The only real drawback of the video is that Ganson likes to use the word “Uh” and “Umm” a lot. I found it pretty noticeable and it did take away just a little from the effectiveness of his speech. However, this is a minor complaint and my only one. It hardly makes the rest of the presentation of the art any less brilliant. Arthur Ganson’s “Ted Talk” is still awesome!